Just typing that subject header conjures feelings of “that really happened, didn’t it?” in this scribbler’s overheated mind. I still find it hard to believe that 2012 was the first time I got to see The Afghan Whigs in the flesh, after missing so many shows such a long time ago that it almost became a running gag in the ’90s. As time has shown, although the Afghan Whigs were part of the same stable as much of what was so exciting back in the day, they were one step ahead of them all. And I suppose this slightly out-of-phase attitude felt slightly odd when planning the gig-visits of the month. Well, I’ve learned my lesson good and proper.
It wasn’t that long ago that I promised myself that the next time they breezed through anywhere near here, I’d be there. I’d didn’t expect it to be as soon as this. I certainly didn’t expect it to be this good.
Support act Oupa (Daniel Blumberg from Yuck) was an intriguing prospect. Performing to pre-recorded loops and drums, Oupa came across as a sort of one-man Red House Painters (to the point where I was convinced his second song was RHP’s Dragonflies until he began to sing), occasionally losing himself impressively in his guitar playing. He was well-received by the audience, and his songs (if a teeny bit overlong, the curse of the solo act – but he was enjoying himself, as were we) were certainly intriguing enough to warrant further investigation. Oupa’s Bandcamp page can be found here.
On to the main act – and if the full auditoria of Koko’s sumptuous century-old surroundings (regular gig-haunt of Charlie Chaplin) were ready for this, their enthusiasm had nothing on that of the band that took the stage. Absolutely on top of their game and utterly in their element, the Whigs took the stage as if they owned it and blitzed through a set that left the rest of us struggling to keep up at times. The opening triumvirate of Crime Scene Pt.1, I’m Her Slave and Uptown Again shot out of the blocks, and it was a further two songs before frontman Greg Dulli slowed the pace for a heartrending and heartbreaking rendition of the already-moving When We Two Parted (more on this sadness later). This thoughtful respite was short-lived when the intro to Gentlemen kicked in, and a crowd that started the evening somewhat noisily polite started jumping up and down (hey, we’re knocking on a bit now, we have more reservations than we once had so takes us time to get going properly!).
At this point, Greg had the whole place under his control and he completely knew it – interrupting You My Flower (one of two tracks from Sub Pop debut Up In It) and slowing the pace right down to explain that this was the point in older shows when they’d go on for hours, putting odd cover versions in before picking the song up much later. Here, we got a rather beautiful reading of Radiohead’s Sail To The Moon before closing the song and carrying on through an exhaustive (and exhausting!) set that could be aptly described as a “greatest hits” collection if is wasn’t for the twin facts that a) This was no nostalgic run through, it was a full-blooded show; and b) The songs, brilliant as they were, constantly evaded the notion of being hits the first time around. The Radiohead segue wasn’t the only tip of the hat to other acts either. The recent recorded addition to the Afghan Whigs’ canon, Frank Ocean’s Love Crimes, was preceded by the piano chimes of the Boomtown Rats’ I Don’t Like Mondays to the delight of the Sunday night assembly, Omerta/The Vampire Lanois fitted the Beatles’ She Loves You as if was always there, and the encore’s final song Faded (preceded joyously as it was by fellow Black Love closers Bulletproof and Summer’s Kiss) was bookended nicely and rather oddly by Al Green’s People Get Ready and a coda containing the riff to
Van Halen’s Why Can’t This Be Love Prince’s Purple Rain (thankyou!). There were others dotted about, but frankly I was having far too much fun to try to work out what they all were.
It’s easy to rattle on and on about easily Greg Dulli controlled his crowd, how his naturally easygoing stage persona had everyone alternately rapt or howling with laughter (his face-pulling at his recollection of a young woman receiving – in his words – “a damned good rogering” in the front row of a show of yore was a joy to behold), how he sang as if he didn’t care if his pipes blew out the next day or how he randomly mentioned to an audience member with blond, spiky hair that he looked just like Sting in Quadrophenia, but it still wouldn’t be the Afghan Whigs if he wasn’t backed by Rick McCollum and John Curley – the latter providing one of the show’s genuinely touching moments when he left his part of the stage to join Greg at the mic for The Vampire Lanois‘ final “Yeah Yeah Yeah”s. And with these two, the band was more than capably bolstered further by Cully Symington, David Rosser and Rick Nelson – although the latter two’s guitar/cello battle didn’t quite happen, despite Greg’s cajoling. This was a band effort, and everyone played as hard and as loud as they could.
Strange as this may sound, I have no real desire to see The Afghan Whigs play live again. This is based on the somewhat bizarre logic that it’s unlikely that I would ever be as astounded by a live show as I was last night, and on the offchance that I did see them again and it was even better, than this show would be somewhat lessened by that. Instead, I’ll take this as being one of those completely perfect moments that was a genuine privilege to have attended. And if they do come back, I’ll probably pretend I never wrote this particular paragraph and start bouncing about all over again.
Crime Scene Part 1
I’m Her Slave
What Jail Is Like
Fountain and Fairfax
When We Two Parted
You My Flower / Sail To The Moon
Son Of The South
See And Don’t See
Going To Town
The Vampire Lanois
Postscript. And a personal reminiscence.
When the band played When We Two Parted, Greg dedicated the song to Renee – someone who will be well-known to anyone who has frequented the messageboards at Onewhiskey, Rekords Rekords and especially Scott Ford Radio. The dedication and the cheer that went up made me think that she was in the audience, and it wasn’t until I returned to where I was staying in London last night that I found out that she had passed away two days ago.
I didn’t know her too well – there was a bit of a misunderstanding late one evening on the OW board that escalated a bit strangely (and, hopefully for my part – as it was indeed my fault – resolved amicably) and we later chatted in a sort of professional capacity (if swapping moderating tips on a mutually-annoying member can be considered a profession by any stretch of the imagination!), but what I do remember of her is her passion for the artists she supported and the humour that she exuded with each post. As with most people I ran into during my time there, she was always more than mere text on a screen and I can only imagine how much it hurts right now for those who knew her much better, as I know how upset I am for our brief acquaintances over the past six years or so, and how fondly I remember her. She will be missed by many, worldwide, and for a very long time.