After an over 10 year absence, the Afghan Whigs returned to the 9:30 Club Friday night. The group hit their peak in 1993 with Gentleman, a dark ode to bad relationships and overall degenerate behavior, and while this wasn’t new territory for the band, it was a perfect execution of everything the band was striving for musically; an effort that resulted in them being catapulted to the top of the music scene of that day. And while the albums that followed, 1986’s Black Love and 1998’s 1965 never quite managed to capture the commercial acclaim that Gentleman did (though both were critically lauded and deservedly so) one thing fans could always count on was that if you went to see the Afghan Whigs live it more often than not was a life altering experience.
And nothing has changed.
Bathed in ominous red and blue lights The Afghan Whigs stalked the crowd at 9:30 Clubs like one of the less than savory characters in their songs come to life. Frontman Greg Dulli has always had a penchant for the dramatic, tortured and sexy – in that order – and the only thing way time has done to affect his performance is to make it more lethal, more raw and more disarmingly potent. Sure, it’s not like he spent all those years in hiding – he certainly kept busy with projects like The Twilight Singers and the Gutter Twins, his collaboration with Screaming Trees vet Mark Lanegan – but those two groups were different beasts entirely. This beast snarls and snaps at the crowd, and whether one feels entertained, uncomfortable or even a little threatened is entirely up to you.
Ultimately though it’s a good natured menace and one that, it could be argued, taps into the very soul of Rock N’ Roll. Tracks like Black Love’s “Going to Town” and “Bulletproof” were both rendered thick with Stax-worthy keyboards layered on top of the aggressive guitar work of Rick McCollum, a nod to the sounds of classic soul that shows up in all of the Whigs music. “Fountain and Fairfax” came complete with a “Who Do You Love” coda that did Bo Didley proud. “When We Two Parted,” one of not just the Whigs most gut wrenching songs, but one of the 90’s, was finished off with a partial cover of Drakes’ (yes that Drake) “Over My Dead Body” – which was then followed up with a spittling, practically rabid “Gentleman,” that rattled the audience out of whatever sense of “safety” that they may have enjoyed only moments before.
More covers and teases appeared throughout the set, with Dulli taking a turn on the keys to belt out Frank Ocean’s “Love Crimes,” and one of the bands biggest hits, “Debonair” found its launch pad in Stevie Nicks “Edge of Seventeen.” The band even closed out the night with a Prince sandwich, couching Black Love’s “Faded” between Prince’s “Sometimes It Snows In April” and a note perfect run through of the still-to-this-day epic solo that closes out the funky one’s “Purple Rain.”
All of this was to prove a point and that point is this: The Afghan Whigs love Rock N Roll as much as they ARE Rock N Roll. If you manage to get twelve hundred people to scream along to the decidedly Rock n’ Roll chorus of “Don’t forget the alcohol” (from the song “Milez Is Dead”) then my friend, you ARE Rock n Roll. If you can take ten years off from your band and then come back stronger than ever, you ARE Rock n’ Roll. And if you can come to the 9:30 Club and play not only one of the best shows of your career but one of the best shows this legendary venue has ever seen? Well...I think you get the picture.