The Afghan Whigs (Washington Park Mainstage, Friday, September 26, 8:30)
I have seen a lot of music in this town; never have I been present for anything like The Afghan Whigs' return to Bogarts in October of 2012. Even before Wussy's (typically expert) warmup set, there was a palpable electricity in the room: this was happening again. Old ghosts creeping out of the bricks, whispers of a different era. The hometown boys taking the stage at their old stomping grounds for the first time in almost fourteen years, five months into a well-received reunion tour. Cincinnati was ready. So were the Whigs. Under dim blue lights, Dulli screamed "CINCINNATIIIIII" over the opening riff to "Crime Scene Part 1," and the place exploded. "I've been waiting five fuckin' months for tonight." They wiped the floor with us. Post-show, I heard multiple vets who had seen the band in their heyday exclaiming that they were even better this time around. The moral of this story: when it comes to The Afghan Whigs, never miss a home game.
On Friday, the 26th, they'll be making their third reunion-era hometown appearance, this time on the much-larger Midpoint Music Festival mainstage in Washington Park. They released Do To The Beast in April, their first new record in sixteen years, and their return to original label Sub Pop. After the departure of original guitarist Rick McCollum, Dulli and bassist/producer John Curley are the only remaining founding Whigs, but they've got admirable support from a trio of Dulli's Twilight Singers cohorts (Jon Skibic, Rick Nelson, and Cully Symington), as well as guitarist Dave Rosser (who joined Dulli and Mark Lanegan in The Gutter Twins). Best of all, it's a damn good Afghan Whigs album, which seemed to take some reviewers by surprise--odd, given Dulli's extremely consistent artistic output over the last decade. The borderline-metal thud of "Parked Outside," the uneasy staccato "Matamoros," the quiet ache of "It Kills"--all classic Whigs with some new twists and textures.
The Afghan Whigs were unlike any other band on the 90's alternative rock landscape. Their music burst at the seams with anxious energy, oozed sex, and begged you, above all, to pay attention. Twenty years later, their records don't suffer from the overproduced sheen that Steve Lillywhite and Brendan O'Brien cast all over albums from that period. Dulli's lyrics--then and now--explored the darkest recesses of the male psyche, songs full of leering libido, braggadocio, guilt, and self-loathing. But it was their obsession with soul music that particularly set them apart. It seeps into their arrangements, into their lyrics, into the basslines and even their album artwork. In concert, songs would (and still do) find their way into Motown songs, "Little Red Corvette" would emerge in the middle of "66," or they'd drop their chilly minor-key arrangement of The Supremes' "Come See About Me." Drake and Frank Ocean covers were frequent on the 2012 reunion tour (they even did a studio version of the latter). Mixed with the alt-rock guitar attack, the soul sound gives Dulli a unique vehicle to convey the anxiety and menace that drives his art.
It's hard to imagine a bigger moment for the band or for the festival. Outside of Grizzly Bear, The Afghan Whigs are the most impressive booking the festival's pulled off. And the band will mark their grand homecoming in front of what's bound to be their largest-ever Cincinnati crowd. Come see Greg Dulli conjure his congregation. Should be one for the history books.
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