Plenty of songs have been written about failed relationships, but no one can plunge into the depths like Greg Dulli, who led soulful Ohio rock outfit the Afghan Whigs in the Nineties, taking us on dark trips into his troubled psyche with each passing record. Dulli wrote songs about the worst love affair you’ve ever had: a beautiful disaster of emotional turmoil that you’d repeat all over again in a second.
Last night, the Afghan Whigs performed together in concert for the first time in 13 years, after a chance reunion developed into a summer tour that will include gigs at Lollapalooza and All Tomorrow’s Parties in Asbury Park, New Jersey. At the Bowery Ballroom in lower Manhattan, the band played a career-spanning set that included fan favorites and tunes from their iconic Gentlemen LP, along with a surprise cover that left some scratching their heads.
Dulli’s work with Twilight Singers and Gutter Twins has kept him in practice, and he can still command the stage. Standing with guitarist Rick McCollum and bassist John Curley, the abrasive singer bickered with the crowd, mentioned that he quit smoking, thanked the indie label Sub Pop for jumpstarting his career and took a hit of someone’s marijuana.
“Somebody’s smoking a joint,” Dulli said, strumming the intro to “Bulletproof,” from their 1996 LP Black Love. “Pass it up – I’m serious.”
Once lumped in with their grunge contemparies, the Afghan Whigs showed their poppier side on the climatic “Summer’s Kiss” and the soulful, anthemic “66.” Dulli’s enthusiasm hasn’t faded over the years – he acted out the verses of “Gentlemen,” emphatically demanding his muse to “unlock the cabinet – I’ll take whatever you got.”
For their encore, the band brought out a string section and played “See and Don’t See,” a Marie Lyons cover that premiered on RollingStone.com last week before its release as a free download. Dulli then manned the organ for an unexpected cover of “Love Crimes,” a song by R&B singer and Odd Future member Frank Ocean. (Dulli has shown his reverence for hip-hop and R&B before – the Whigs referenced Nas’ Illmatic on their album 1965, and they’ve also covered TLC’s “Creep” for a B-side).
Dulli dedicated the night’s last song, “Miles iz Ded,” to Sub Pop VP Megan Jasper and chastised a fan for interrupting him as he told the story of how the band got signed. It was a glimmer of the same brash persona reflected his his lyrics – unapologetic and upfront, they’re a document of Christian guilt. As Dulli sings on “Debonair,” “This ain’t about regret. It’s when I tell the truth.”