Still the best thing out of Cincinnati since the ‘70s Reds. Newsday:
It was the stuff of legend.
Regardless of how the surprising reunion of the Afghan Whigs turns out, their show last night at the Bowery Ballroom will go down as the ‘90s alt-rock heroes’ greatest concert ever.
It’s not that the Whigs’ singer-guitarist Greg Dulli, bassist John Curley and guitarist Rick McCollum were perfect in their first concert together in 13 years, they were – not to get all Oprah about it – their best selves.
The impressive two-hour show delivered on the promising concept the band began 25 years ago in the tiny bars of Cincinnati, where their usual gigs would be in the tiny front corner of a laundromat/bar. They brought together rock, soul, blues and enough lyrical drama about the ongoing battle of the sexes to merit decades of psychoanalysis. And they looked like they were having a blast doing it – even when Dulli threatened a heckler with disembowelment and a hanging from the balcony, it seemed playful.
From Jukebox Graduate:
To see those three men back onstage together, playing music, was enormous and profound. This seems to be a reunion of unfinished business combined with wanting to see where the journey will take them. It doesn’t feel like nostalgia or an attempt to recapture a moment that no longer exists. When you used to walk into a Whigs show, you never knew what you were going to get, what direction the band would pull you into, what rant Greg would go off on (and take you with him; he always took you with him, it was about him but it was always about him bringing you into it), what cover they would bust out just because, what riff would get tagged onto the end of something. The Afghan Whigs were always a live powerhouse; they always delivered; they never sold you short, gave you less than you deserved.
So it shouldn’t surprise anyone that the Afghan Whigs in 2012 are still a live powerhouse, but it is surprising and both not surprising that the live experience is tremendous… Last night’s setlist was truly a work of art; it was everything you could possibly want to hear but not a greatest hits compilation by any stretch. Every person in that room knew every word and sang along, with a beatific or ecstatic expression on their face… I started crying at the beginning of “Bulletproof” and had a random woman pat me on the shoulder. The woman next to me started crying at the end of it, and I reached out to do the same thing: hey, you know, we’re all here, and we’re all in this together. 20 years ago, those songs would have likely brought different emotions; it is a tribute to this music that they still endure, still vibrate, still have meaning…
What else could we want? I would like to see these three men write music together again; I don’t think it’s outrageous or out of the question or that they no longer have anything to contribute. I would not be shocked to see it happen next, but I am glad that they are hedging and not committing to anything right now. I would love to see them figure out how to do a full album show, I would love to see Black Love performed end-to-end, I would love a horn section again and the return of Susan Marshall. Before you tell me I am asking for too much, keep in mind that every year I place a bet in Las Vegas that the Mets will win the World Series. But it is 2012 and we have the Afghan Whigs back with us, and who expected that either? Now is precisely the time to ask for the impossible.
The Afghan Whigs released Up In It, their Sub Pop debut, in 1990. They played their last shows in 1999. It is very safe to call them a ‘90s band. But while that usually connotes some sort of one-hit wonderment or frozen-in-amber datedness, the Afghan Whigs always felt like they spanned every inch of those 10 years; from the Cincinnati proto-grunge that got them mixed up with Sub Pop to begin with to the fraught, bursting-at-the-seams mid-career major-label power plays to the soul-tinged fadeout, they were buoyed up and beaten down by everything that weird decade had to offer.
Which is why their first show together since then, at New York’s Bowery Ballroom last night, felt less like an easy nostalgia trip than a reminder of problems we, perhaps selectively, forgot we ever had. While leader Greg Dulli was leaner, meaner, fitter, and in better voice at 47 than even during the band’s heyday, the same couldn’t necessarily be said of his core audience, but from the opening strains of “Crime Scene, Part One,” all the old drama and menace and hurt feelings and failings were right there, palpable and visceral, all couched in the equally palpable sense of relief that none of us are that fucked up anymore. Tragedy plus time…