The Afghan Whigs

 

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Afghan Whigs playlist

 

The Afghan Whigs photo

The Afghan Whigs (l to r): Steve Earle (drums), Greg Dulli (vocals, rhythm guitar), John Curley (bass), Rick McCollum (lead guitar)

 

Contributor: Wayne Jessup

Cutting through the torpor of post-Nirvana grunge like a lighthouse pulled off the Great Lakes and plopped down in the Midwest … it came from Cincinnati, bringing both the knowing leer and bags of swagger to an inward-looking scene. Powered by Greg Dulli, a frontman who brought the vocal horsepower of Roger Daltrey crossed with vintage soul sensibilities, the Afghan Whigs charged headlong through the 90s, burning bright, and without apology, and there was no way it could last.

Looking to conquer the world beyond the cosy confines of the Pacific Northwest, Sub Pop’s first outside signing, Denver’s mighty Fluid, did the Afghan Whigs a mighty solid by passing back to their label a copy of their indie debut LP Big Top Halloween (1988), and they were off to the races.

Extensive touring helped hone their sound, and by the time of their 3rd LP, Congregation, they became a force to be reckoned with. Saying goodbye to Sub Pop with the Uptown Avondale EP, their debt to soul/R&B became more evident, welding immaculately to what was by now, their own sound. Hooking up with Elektra provided a springboard for, arguably, their finest work: Gentlemen (1993) and Black Love (1996). While accruing a fanatical cult audience, (that persists to this day), the band never broke through to major success. A move to Columbia in 1998 yielded 1965, their final full-length in their original run, with the band dissolving as they all resided in different locations.

A period of solo exploration and collaboration commenced, (Twilight Singers, solo Dulli LP Amber Headlights, and the Gutter Twins with Mark Lanegan), broken up by a band reunion of sorts, marked by a 2006 compilation, Unbreakable, replete with a new single I’m A Soldier. In 2012, the Afghan Whigs returned to the scene of the crime, reconvening for All Tomorrow’s Parties, then adding more festivals and a few stateside dates. Upon completion, they quietly headed back into the studio. With two LPs, Do To The Beast (2014) and In Spades (2017), matching the quality of the original incarnation, the feeling persists that you haven’t heard the last of them yet …

TrackAlbum
Conjure MeCongregation
Miles Iz DedCongregation
GentlemenGentlemen
Fountain And FairfaxGentlemen
Honky's LadderBlack Love
FadedBlack Love
Somethin' Hot1965
Lovecrimesfree download
Lost In The WoodsDo To The Beast
Demon In ProfileIn Spades

Conjure Me from Congregation is our entry point of choice … a brisk trot that firmly establishes all the scenes and neuroses forthcoming. Miles Iz Ded slows down to a mean strut, effectively acting as a trailer for the whole playlist.

Gentlemen proved their breakthrough LP and, along with its follow up Black Love, found the band with a major label canvas, and at the peak of its formidable powers. Gentlemen is the most perfect crystallization of Dulli’s lyrical obsessions, and the band more than meets him halfway. Drumbeats set the pace, and with Dulli’s growled “now …”, we’re off on the rapids of the title track. The album is of such a piece that it seems criminal to pick only two tracks, but a worthy companion is tempestuous lament Fountain And Fairfax, recipient of some of Dulli’s more impassioned howling, and a journey within itself.

 

How to follow up a stone cold classic? Make a movie. Black Love is the film ex-cinema student Dulli always wanted to make, a widescreen epic that screamed out for a Tarantino adaptation. It’s damn near impossible to listen to the intro without visualizing credits. Once again the fool’s errand is trying to pick an individual track … Honky’s Ladder, while buried in the middle of the proceedings, serves as a brutal mission statement. The majestic closer Faded stands as one of their greatest achievements, and became a ritual closer over the years, serving as a launchpad to many a memorable encore. Reaching back to appropriate and recast a line from opener Crime Scene Part One: “Bathe my path in shining light …”, begat “Bathe a path, shine the light”, allowing even the merest hint of redemption as a kind of triumph after so long in the dark. The labor of love extended out to the packaging, (not always the highest concern during the CD revolution), given over to a series of Wee Gee photos that lent a very specific gravitas, as well as an assumed nod to the news photographer background of bandmate John Curley.

 

Follow up 1965 catches the band in top form following a move to Columbia … not as tightly wound as its predecessor, assuredly impacted by its recording circumstances. The LP seethes and breathes New Orleans, evidenced by the push and pull intensity of Somethin’ Hot. And with that, a chapter closed; Dulli following his muse to the above mentioned projects, until, a decade later, a track appeared, a stripped down cover of Frank Ocean’s Lovecrimes. Like an earlier reimagining of Freda Payne’s Band Of Gold, they put their inimitable stamp on an unexpected source and made it their own.

 

Once the reunion dates commenced, it was more than apparent that, not only did the spark remain, but that new music would be forthcoming, and some 16 years after 1965, they reunited with Sub Pop, and Do To The Beast appeared. While the opener, Parked Outside, packed a welcoming punch, the LP was heavier on coiled tension than outward bombast. Mature yes, but still feral. Lost In The Woods is the gem, resolving to a gorgeous but uneasy chorus. That subtlety carries through to their most recent, In Spades, and our final playlist pick, Demon In Profile, a perfect snapshot of where the band is currently poised, and an accomplished and addictive addition to their legacy.

 

 

 

 

DEEPER DIGGING
Middle East, Boston, Mass Oct 1988
PinkPop, Netherlands May 1994
Fillmore, San Francisco, CA May 1996
Rockpalast, Düsseldorf, Germany April 1996
Howlin’ Wolf, New Orleans, LA 1998 (audio only)
Fader Fort, Austin, TX SXSW 2012 (complete set)
Primavera Sound 2012
Live at KEXP, Seattle 2014
Live at KEXP, Seattle 2017
Rockpalast 2017

 

 

The Afghan Whigs official website

Greg Dulli official website

Summer’s Kiss: A Tribute to the Afghan Whigs

The Afghan Whigs YouTube Channel

The Afghan Whigs biography (iTunes)

Wayne Jessup (@waj1) can be found at The Owl Mag and Burned All My Notebooks. He has written on Mission of Burma, Fugazi, Spoon, Jawbox and Lucinda Williams for this site.

TopperPost #782

4 Comments

  1. Andrew Shields
    Apr 21, 2019

    Know Greg Dulli through his work with Mark Lanegan and have always meant to explore The Afghan Whigs further. This fine list gives me the perfect place to start.

  2. David Lewis
    Apr 22, 2019

    Steve Earle. I take it no relation to the singer songwriter? (Namesakes only, more about what Steve’s doing now here … Ed.)

    • David Lewis
      Apr 22, 2019

      Thanks Ed!

  3. Justin Beasley
    Apr 22, 2019

    Excellent piece, thanks. Agree on most of the choices too although I’d probably have to find space for the amazing My Curse in there. Cheers!

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