Soaring with the Oldies

November 6, 1992, Friday
The Cincinnati Enquirer

The Afghan Whigs stand on the brink.
And the Cincinnati quartet could be pushed over the edge by a ”Band of Gold.”

Placed in March on Newsweek’s most likely to succeed list, the modern rock band is following the footsteps of Nirvana. The Seattle-based band first recorded for the independent Sub Pop Records before going to the top of the charts with ”Nevermind” on the DGC label of multimedia magnate, David Geffen.

The Whigs – vocalist Greg Dulli, guitarist Rick McCollum, drummer Steve Earle and bassist John Curley – are on Sub Pop. Last week, they released their first EP, ”Uptown Avondale,” their seventh recording for the label.

The five-track ”Uptown Avondale” is flush with cover versions of such oldies as the Supremes’ 1964 hit, ”Come See About Me,” and Freda Payne’s 1970 success, ”Band of Gold.” Proving that this band of free spirits can put its downtrodden, minor-key spin on standards is just what the major labels want to hear. This could up the ante in the bidding wars that have left the Whigs, in Earle’s words, ”getting a lot of free CDs and eating really well.”

The Whigs, off the road to rest, write their next album and play Bogart’s Saturday night, ”will record the next one this spring for whoever,” Earle notes. ”It’s hard to say who we’ll be signed with. But at this point, negotiations are going real well.”

Life has also been treating Earle well. With ”Uptown Avondale,” he made his debut as the band’s cover boy.

”That’s me on the cover covered with flour, wearing Bono glasses and having slicked-back hair,” Earle proclaims with mock pride.

”I haven’t decided if I’m going to show it to my parents,” he adds. ”I’m very white on the cover.”

”Very white” is also how Earle describes the band’s sound when the Whigs started recording ”Uptown Avondale’s” ”Band of Gold,” ”Come See About Me” and Al Green’s ”Beware.”

”We grew up listening to these soul songs,” Earle says. ”So at first we tried to do them as they are on the records. But we found out we were very white. So we put our own stamp on them.”

That stamp bears a U2 cancellation. Dulli has a distant, tortured, tormented sound to his voice, just like Bono on U2’s ”Achtung Baby.”

Earle terms Uptown Avondale’s sound as ”very minimalistic. And, the guitars are much louder than the originals.”

The tone is also darker. Payne’s ”Band of Gold” gleams. The Supremes’ ”Come See About Me” is, in Earle’s words, ”happy-go-lucky.” The Whigs’ ”Band” is tarnished by years of abuse. The band’s ”Come See About Me” revision is in a minor key.

”That lends itself to a tormented sound,” Earle adds. ”We like the minor keys.

”But it wasn’t like we were angry when we made this album,” he notes. ”We were having fun.”

Earle believes the band’s dark tones are reflected in Dulli’s preference for wearing black.

”Everything he wears is dark. Never give him a neon-colored shirt for a present. It’ll just go unused.”

CLIFF RADEL

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