Afghan Whigs get dirty

By The Columbia Chronicle

The world can be a cruel place. People let you down, people leave you. That’s what The Afghan Whigs are about — life’s disappointments, lies and betrayals. Greg Dulli’s lyrics deal with the evil, the dirty, the black side of love.

Dulli is an alcoholic, a former heroin addict and a self-professed ‘son of a bitch.’ He isn’t a singer; he’s a vocalist. Dulli doesn’t try to hit high or low notes or sing on key. It’s about how he sings it. In The Afghan Whigs world, there are only four roles–predator, victim, seducer and seducee. Dulli knows his way around all four. Whether he’s the predator or the victim the lyrics are biting and honest. “…All alone, all alone, no one to play with… your eyes are all swollen from crying again…feeling sick you open it and discover your lover between the legs of another… and he’s loving it, let me lie to you,” taunts Dulli on “Let Me Lie To You” one of the standout tracks on the Whigs third album 1992’s “Congregation.”

The secret to Dulli’s charm is that he understands the other end of relationships as well. In fact that’s when he’s at his best—when he’s telling the victim’s point of view. “…Angel, come closer. So the stink of your lies sinks into my memory. She said baby forever, but I don’t like to be alone. So don’t stay away too long. Forever, well it’s Tuesday now and I hear him breathing inside of her…” sings Dulli on “Fountain and Fairfax” from the Whigs legendary 1994 album “Gentlemen.”

Dulli says that when he’s on stage he’s fronting “the greatest rock band in the world.” He’s right. His band is what makes him bearable. Over The Afghan Whigs 10 year existence, lead guitarist Rick McCollum has developed a guitar sound that’s unparalleled. His slide guitar emits a soaring, magical, almost human cry. At times it’s nearly Dulli’s occasional backup vocalist, McCollum lets it loose to pick up the pieces of a song and carry it into the sky.

“Gentlemen,” The Afghan Whigs fourth album and major label debut, was released to tremendous critical praise at the end of 1993. Earlier this year, Alternative Press magazine ranked “Gentlemen” 14th on it’s top 90 albums of the nineties list, calling it “the darkest album of the nineties.” The album begins with the flick of a match–lighting a candle, setting the scene for a 42 minute seduction.

In a blatant attempt to sell more records, The Afghan Whigs have embraced their soul side; a side that was previously limited to b-side covers of Motown favorites like “Band of Gold,” “Come See About Me” and “My World Is Empty Without You.”

“1965” is a straight forward, ass-shaking come on. Dulli has thrown aside his obsession with the evil side of human relationships in favor of the simplest one: Lust. “Sweet Son Of A Bitch” features twenty-seconds of a woman… umm, well, enjoying herself. Dulli sums up his new attitude on “Neglekted” singing, “ can fuck my body baby, but please don’t fuck my mind.”

So, the big question heading into The Afghan Whig’s two sold out Metro shows was which band would show up—the dirty, betrayed, vengeful Whigs or the new, soulful, fresh, lusty Whigs?

It’s been over two years since The Afghan Whig’s last Chicago performance, so the crowd arrived early and energized. The band kicked things off with the new single, “Something’s Hot.” The live performance injected something into the song that it lacks on the record, which was a recurring theme throughout the night.

It must be understood that The Afghan Whigs are the most powerful band on the planet. Honestly, I’ve seen hundreds of bands—my hearing is permanently screwed. The Afghan Whigs are the only bands that still make my ears ring.

The Whigs feed off of the crowd. They deliver an exceptional amount to their audience and expect the same in return.

“We’re like a car–-if you keep filling us with gas we’ll run forever,” said Dulli.

He’s not lying. At the Bowery Ballroom in New York City earlier this month the band played for more than five hours until they were kicked off stage at 5 a.m.

That was the first show of the current tour. Things must have been going well then. By the time they arrived in Chicago something had gone wrong. We didn’t get the new, lusty Whigs or the dirty, vengeful Whigs—we got the pissed off Whigs.

Dulli spent much of the night berating the exceptionally loud crowd for its lack of enthusiasm. It’s unclear what he expected. He got particularly miffed when someone yelled “the Reds suck,” in reference to the cardboard Pete Rose sitting on an amp. Dulli, a native of Cincinnati, immediately began disparaging the Cubs. He invited the heckler on stage and forced him to dance like an idiot for a few minutes. Once the humiliation was complete, he was allowed to leave. Dulli’s mood, however, never recovered.

Legend has it that after a breakup in 1992, Dulli locked himself in a Los Angeles hotel for three months and wrote “Gentlemen.” The band has literally collapsed after every tour, and despite the new, happier songs it seems that nothing has really changed with Greg Dulli.

His stage presence is incredible—he owns the audience. Two years ago he decided to treat us; the band played for almost three hours and gave three encores. This time he played the predator, lashing out at the crowd and performing for just about two hours—a very short set for the Whigs.

Interestingly, when the band was playing, Dulli seemed in high spirits, he screamed and crooned and swung his hips like no white man should. It was between songs that the ugliness surfaced. The crowd however, never seemed to mind; they took their punishment with a smile, relishing favorites like “Debonair” and “When We Two Parted.”

On the second night, Dulli practically ignored the crowd. There were no more fifteen minute monologues or jokes. He seemed as if he had given up on Chicago and was ready to move on.

In the long run, the new album will probably be looked upon as an oddity in The Afghan Whigs’ catalog. The live show indicated that deep down, Dulli is still the tormented soul that sees love as a battle and deception as humanity’s most popular trait.