Thoughts on The Afghan Whigs at Varsity Theater
One thing that has been clear during this fall of “reunion” tours, most lately featuring longer-in-the-tooth bands like Public Image Ltd, Jon Spencer Blues Explosion and Jesus and Mary Chain, to name a few, is that the bands are rarely at fault if the general feel of the show is a bit sluggish. Greg Dulli not only proved that age is just a number last night with an outstanding Afghan Whigs show at the Varsity Theater Sunday night, like Lydon of PiL last week at the Mill City Nights, he chastised the crowd-albeit subtly- for their lack of energy while giving a performance that was profoundly commanding.
The Afghan Whigs are on the younger end of the spectrum for the bands reuniting, even with their seminal album Gentleman coming out nearly 20 years ago. You wouldn’t have known they were a day over 18 with the energy that cascaded from the stage Sunday night. The band was as powerful and theatrical as you would expect, coming out to an anthemic soundtrack of swelling synths to inserting various Prince references into their 90+ minute set. Greg Dulli was the consummate showman, belting out his classic grunge meets filthy R&B tunes that he does so well, backed by the current five piece incarnation of the Whigs. The set touched on various points of the bands back catalog, with random ventures into covers of current R&B hits (including snippets from Drake, The weeknd and a lights out cover of “Lovecrimes” by Frank Ocean) for flavor. The unfortunate fact was that, despite the spellbinding performance in a venue tailor made for their decadent yet manicured styling’s, the crowd seemed unable to match the energy coming from the stage. Maybe it was more wild up front, but the mid half to back portion of the crowd seemed listless (albeit smiling and enjoying themselves), save for a few select moments. The crowd erupted during “Gentleman” and “Debonair” and also loved the set closing “Purple Rain” outro, but mostly seemed a bit disconnected from what they were witnessing. Dulli made light of this with a comment about “I know you are old, I am too,” before tearing into another song, not letting the crowd slow him down a bit. He also made his way through the crowd at one point while singing, making it nearly to the back of the venue, as part of a performance that could have been used as a primer for “how to be a front man.” Maybe it was because it was a Sunday night, or maybe it was the $40 tickets, but whatever it was, the crowd didn’t seem to match the great performance that was happening Sunday night. As with other “classic” artist shows, the band proved to be up to the challenge of making great music decades after their inception, even if their fans are quite as rowdy, vocal or animated as they used to be. In the surefire sign that it was a great show, I left the venue as a bigger fan than when I entered and went instantly to my music library when I got home to reexamine the groups excellent catalog. The Afghan Whigs, and more specifically Greg Dulli, proved they deserved the adulation heaped upon them during their “reunion” tour and proved conclusively that their act was not one that needed to lean on their “glory days” to make for a compelling show.