Your attention please: I just bought tickets to The Afghan Whigs – in 2014. These tickets, however, are considerably more expensive than door prices would have been at Sudsy’s – the bar and laundrette that hosted local legendary line-ups, and most probably the place where many of us first saw the whigs – their affectionate abbreviation at that time. Lyrically, Greg Dulli was experimenting with his Freudian drives 20 years ago; territory that few could fully articulate, let alone conjure nightly on stage in Corryville, Cincinnati. Sweet nothings it wasn’t. Dulli, fully fluent with his psychosexual tropes (think “Band of Gold” cover here) always had a lyrical interpretation that tempted das verbotene. I think of the snarling lyrics of “Blame, Etc.” or “Neglekted” as lethally seductive and hypnotic as any other shamanic reckoning I can recall; but I would never call it an easy aesthetic. Coupled with the angry bravado was the Motown beat. Such soulful choices needed consideration against the obvious racial stagnation working its way up and down Vine Street at the time. The whigs were innovating in ways different from the ways about to define and catalogue this period of Seattle-based grunge. Hungry for the funk, songs like “Rebirth of the Cool” satisfied this early desire for a rhythmically different hard, hard rock that could still, in the words of Barb Abney of Minnesota Public Radio, “…melt your face off”. There would be other noteworthy projects for Dulli like The Twilight Singers, but not specifically for the whigs.
Now, Do to the Beast, released on Sub-Pop Records, and the latest recording effort from The Afghan Whigs in ages, Dulli & mates hone the landscape to uncharacteristic vulnerability and delicacy. On the opening track, “Parked Outside”, Dulli lyrically confesses he is going to be made to break down and cry. This is antithetical to the sardonic sneers of yesterday. This time we hear the wailing strings on “Matamoros” that just minutes later might carry both Prince and George Clinton to The Holy Mothership. We are then led into a piano instrumental in “It Kills” that is so different in both tempo and self-discovery you might be tricked into thinking it is an overlaid track, or a sample from a different band, only to be called back to witness the desolate and full confessional of “Algiers”. By just the fourth track Dulli, along with bandmates, have crooned, asked forgiveness, sought redemption, and almost cried. Mark the musical prowess of individual band members as key to fragile moments, nuances and nods to a variety of other styles: country twangs and slides, soul, classical, punk, funk, and even, blue-grass. It did, after all, begin off the Ohio River, right? As you consider this new voice, and feel the greater musical expanse, you might wonder if an evolved, more progressive newcomer has finally tamed the old demon lover. Hear the war drums within “These Sticks” and you’ll know with certainty The Afghan Whigs have come through the battle with roots intact. And because real conjuring happens on stage: get your tickets now, kiddies.