Things are going a bit slow here at the moment, largely because things are far too full-on elsewhere. There’s a definite disparity in the work-life balance here, and that can never be seen to be right. So while I try to address that, this week shall be mostly comprised of EPs and quiet things as that’s all my attention span can cope with while all else goes mad around me. This whatever also reflects the lunacy of the past couple of weeks, but I’m sure it’s nothing to worry about and nothing that a bit of a sleep can’t remedy.
I suspect that I may well be the only person who does this, but there you go. After waiting with bated breath from the moment it was announced to the day that it finally arrived on my doorstep, I then went and left the new Afghan Whigs album to one side for a day. Unplayed. Then again, it’s been over a decade and a half. Another 24 hours spent tantalisingly within touching distance just adds to the anticipation.
But now it’s here, and after a quick read – because this vinyl edition sees the return of something among the grooves that I thought this wax renaissance had forgotten about – it’s spinning. And it was worth every second, day and year of the wait.
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. (more…)
I type this with a vague feeling of regret, which is a feeling I commonly associate with the Afghan Whigs. Back in the 1990s, there were seemingly always flyers posted about the place announcing that the band were once more rolling through town, and every time this happened I never went to see them, despite making a mental note to do so “next time”. I suppose I put his down to an attitude shared by others at the time, for as much as their music appealed, they never “fitted” with what was going on around them – where labelmates and supposed contemporaries were either revelling in joyful dumbness or aiming for the arenas, Cincinatti’s Afghan Whigs were on a dimly-lit path of their own making, and it was a somewhat strange path to follow at the time they were around. Especially for me personally – the darkness apparent in their words and music were at odds with what was an incredibly happy time when they were approaching their peak, and when they were coming to an end, theirs was an abyss I didn’t want to be looking too hard into during an extended and rather self-destructive period.
So to return to my opening sentence: I am once more having twinges of regret with regard to this band, and again it’s because of me not going to see them. In all honesty, I have no reason why I didn’t go to see the reformed band in London recently. Fortunately, their set at Barcelona’s Primavera festival was broadcast live over the Internet the other day, so at least I had the opportunity to make slight amends. That I was so blown away by their performance was the reason why I went straight back into their back-catalogue with a view to picking one for highlighting here. And because I couldn’t pick one, I chose three of them instead.
A bit of a slight revisit this one, as thanks to the joys of preordering I’d been enjoying the downloaded tracks for a short while beforehand (and enjoying to the extent that I’d included this among my favourites of 2011). Thanks to the arrival of the 2xCD package that arrived yesterday as well as the arrival of a posh new pair of headphones (which comes with a free bottle-opener for reasons I’m not party to, nicely combining two of my favourite hobbies in one go nonetheless), I can ditch the digitals and pipe through something a bit more expansive.
Live albums are weird beasts at the best of times: even the most impressive and immersive recordings are just that – recordings. Strip away the physicality involved in actually being at a show, and it’s nigh-on impossible to replicate the experience, because almost all good and great shows are only partially about the performance itself. The portents were always going to be good for this particular one though – Twilight Singers frontman Greg Dulli knows exactly how to bring a performance to life, and his skills as bandleader, raconteur and general bon viveur are well suited to not just bridging the gap between stage and audience (every Twilight Singers show I’ve been to has felt like they’ve just turned up in your living room), but also concert hall to stereo. When Greg is facing his crowd, he’s doing this with the confidence of someone who knows exactly where he is (his local knowledge displayed at shows can be side-splittingly accurate) and what he’s doing; dipping in and out of a vast repertoire of cover version snippets and conversational asides safe in the knowledge that if he’s entertaining himself, then the rest of us will be having an absolute ball.
I’ll attempt to do something slightly different with this, as it’s certainly a slightly different release and as I’m pretty well-versed in the original recorded material (read here and here for a couple of examples) it feels a bit odd writing about them all over again, albeit in a different context. So, as context is king and all that, I’ll just knock up a list of what I think makes for any great live album based on a seemingly resolute criteria that has been passed down from generation to generation. Or, to put it another way, one that I seem to have arbitrarily knocked together for the sake of narrative.
Rule 1: The Cover Must Be Exciting
Rule 2: Bring Your Songs To Life
Rule 3: Involve Your Audience
Rule 4: Make The People At Home Sick With Jealousy
Rule 5: Leave Nothing Out
It was very hot. It was incredibly loud. The audience were stood on some sort of lovely patio.
These are special nights when Greg Dulli brings his Twilight Singers into town. Not just because of longterm comedy injuries sustained by this scribbler whilst drunkenly walking a very long way home in the wrong direction and pouring rain whilst drunk after an especially brilliant set, and in this case not just because of the quality stone floorwork.
The reason that these nights are special is because they are uniformly excellent shows. A Twilight Singers show involves everyone present to the extent that it is impossible not to feel part of the performance, and of the songs themselves. Whether one is right at the front or loitering about at the back, everyone plays a part and our reward is a head full of stars to brighten up those dark little corners of the soul.
One day, all online record sales will be conducted using Sub Pop’s excellent business model. Encouraging vinyl sales by including free mp3 download codes and generally being really friendly and easy to deal with is reason enough to fling disposable income at them, but they should also be singled out for special praise for providing streams of your order when they send you your purchase confirmation. This also extends to pre-orders, so that rather than wait until the middle of February (when I’ll be in London seeing Mark Lanegan & Isobel Campbell) for this, it’s available to listen to right now.
And, if I had paid attention to my emails properly, I could have listened to this yesterday as well. Ah well, better late than never, and certainly better than hanging about for another couple of weeks (plus time added on for awful postal service at the mo)…
It seems a bit curious that there were loads of quality tribute albums released in the early nineties featuring acts from the Sub Pop roster and their peers dedicated to bands who had influenced their respective career paths, yet now we are one generation on from this, and these artists remain largely without tribute albums of their own, despite their own not inconsiderable influence on many of today’s contemporary artists. Is the music of Nirvana so sacrosanct that nobody dares to have a bit of fun with it? Were the Screaming Trees so unique that their songs remain invulverable to interpretation? Is the fact that Alice in Chains are still lumbering along preventing the people who learned their songs in their garages and basements from paying musical tribute?
Thankfully, this has been in some part redressed thanks to Summerskiss, the website dedicated to all things Greg Dulli, who has painstakingly and lovingly assembled this collection of friends and fans reworking Afghan Whigs songs for a new generation to discover.
I must admit that, although having been quite the Afghan Whigs fan, Greg Dulli’s first foray outside the comfort zone of his own band (the now departed Afghan Whigs) with Twilight as Played by The Twilight Singers seemed to have passed by under my radar (something that was resolved within three days of listening to the follow-up). So it was this second album that was my first exposure to this new direction and new approach. The result is a recording that is one of those few occasions where someone can take a step away from one stage and start up on a new one with such success, exploring new directions and indeed causing me to explore interesting directions of my own that has resulted in a knee that still squeaks if weather conditions are right…