The Afghan Whigs arrived in New York City this weekend for two shows ostensibly as part of their Do To The Beast tour, but also in actual effect to celebrate the continued existence of the Greg Dulli Rhythm and Blues Revue as a living, breathing, thriving concern in the year 2014. Both nights were musical and emotional powerhouses, exceptionally performed and executed, with special moments and surprises. That is saying a lot for a band that always came to take prisoners and never phoned it in.
I moved to Israel in the summer of 1988. The specific reasons why are complicated and irrelevant now, mostly; I was young and wanted an adventure. I thought it would all work out okay, and it did. Miraculously, despite only knowing how to say “orange juice” in Hebrew, I got a job within two weeks after arriving. The ad in the Jerusalem Post said “Wanted: Young person with good English and interest in popular music.” The job was Label Manager of Warner/Elektra/Atlantic (which included Geffen & MCA at the time), and since I had been stumbling around the music business before I moved to the Middle East, and had good English, I got the job.
Band reunions are tricky, complicated, emotional things. In these days of holograms and reunion tours that go on for 5 years, the concept of accepting that this entity to which you had such an emotional connection, or never got to experience, will never be available to you (either again or for the first time) is unpopular. I never saw the Who with Keith Moon, never got to see Sterling Morrison play guitar on the same stage as Lou Reed, John Cale and Maureen Tucker, never saw the New York Dolls with Johnny Thunders and Arthur Kane. When I was younger these things made me rue my very existence, now that I was older I kick myself but still accept that bands are this amorphous thing and sometimes the universe does not align to put you where you need to be to experience something you want.
[/caption] In one of those moments of my life in which I know I am blessed, I was extended the opportunity to see the 2012 Afghan Whigs during dress rehearsal for their Late Night With Jimmy Fallon appearance tonight. It goes without saying, but I will say it in case you are new around these parts: the Whigs are a Top 10 artist for me. I got to work Gentlemen when it came out. I have a long, long history with them (which I will save for another time).
So being able to step through doors and into a studio and see the recombined Afghan Whigs standing there was like walking through the doors of the Emerald City. Everyone looks good; everyone looks well. You would recognize them if you saw them walking down the street, even if the heads are now salt-and-pepper; they would just look like you and your friends. The energy was clear and palpable; these are people who are connected to each other. This isn’t a big payday (although I’m sure it’s not small, and they’re more than entitled to it), so I wasn’t worried that they’d get together if they didn’t genuinely want to be there, but the tangible proof was heartwarming to see.
Even I am not immune to the year-end listing process. Here’s my list of favorite/best shows of 2011. It’s so skewed as to representative of nothing except my particular universe – but it’s not like I’m pretending that 2012 isn’t going to be a laundry list of Springsteen and Afghan Whigs shows.
The Twilight Singers perform Blackberry Belle: Great American Music Hall, San Francisco, CA; 9/17/11
When the Twilight Singers were forced to cancel the San Francisco date behind the latest album, Dynamite Steps, no one anticipated that the makeup date wouldn’t be just another show, somehow shoehorned into the tour schedule, but rather a first time one-off epic performance: Blackberry Belle, Dulli’s first post-Whigs magnum opus, performed in its entirety. Waiting on line to get into the venue, along with people from Chicago and Texas and Seattle and Canada I wondered if any San Franciscans had gotten themselves into their makeup date.
The emotional continuum of Blackberry Belle is a tough one for me. It’s a record that got me through an agonizing, lengthy breakup that I just could not get free of. I didn’t need to listen to music that was positive or uplifting, I wanted to hear the audible representation of how I felt inside and dig out of it that way. It’s kind of like the Whigs’ version of of “Come See About Me” – the way the Supremes sing it, it’s a cheery little ditty that’s hiding the main character’s true feelings. But when the Whigs did it? They turned it into a howling, dark, dissonant beast of a song that made you feel like you’d never heard it before. It owed as much to Husker Du as it did to Holland-Dozier-Holland – but make no mistake, it very much had a foot equally planted in both camps. Which is, of course, how I fell in love with the Afghan Whigs in the first place, and Dulli still does this shit.
One of the things I have always loved and appreciated about Greg Dulli is that he’s not ashamed to be a frontman. The word “showmanship” isn’t anathema to him. When he is on stage, he is ON STAGE. So on a night when he’s filming the show for what I can only assume is commercial release, he’s going to turn it all the way up, hard. I’ve seen him do this with the Afghan Whigs, I’ve seen him do it with the Twilight Singers – even on the solo tour or with Lanegan on the Gutter Twins tour, Dulli is a like a magician the way he can grab the energy, flip it around, find it if it’s hiding, beg for it if he has to, demand it if it’s not meeting his needs, cajole it out from a shy crowd.
The thought of Greg solo was enough to make me buy tickets for four shows (and see three), and I would have done more had I been able to manage it. The thought of Greg onstage all by himself, or at least outside the encumbrance of an organized musical vehicle (even if he was in the driver’s seat) was just so – appealing, so tempting, so frought with potential and anticipation.
“I watch baseball, either on TV or by going to a game. I support the Cincinnati Reds, who are terrible at the moment-they have one of the worst teams I’ve ever seen in my life! But when they’re your team, you’re with them for the good times and you’re with them for the bad times.” […]