Rhino – The Scene 3/11/06 Review

by E.C. Gladstone  – Link

The Afghan Whigs were always an anomaly in the grunge rock era. The first band signed to SubPop from outside of the Northwest "scene," they were also virtually the only group among their peers to express any level of articulate sensitivity—as well as caddishness—in short, complex emotions. Their success was probably limited, in retrospect, by something of a creative identity crisis (rock? soul? post-punk? classic?) as well as often being simply too hip for the room, and trying on too many occasions to perfect the same song.

But the little girls (as they say) understood, and the Whigs engendered a dedicated following, both male and female, which continues to this day. Leader Greg Dulli had the rare dignity to pull the band’s plug at the right time (though there were business issues involved in the dissolution too, one presumes). From there he started a quasi-solo/collaborative project which, while never quite reaching to the heights of Gorillaz (cut from similar cloth) did over the past several years help Dulli realize that he belongs, come hell or highwater, at the helm of a solid rock band. And that, as they say, is that.

After two years of the most solid work of his career, Dulli slightly revised his band line up (new guitarist Dave Rosser) setting up this 200-capacity show (if that) in a tiny bar just over the border from L.A. hipsterville Silver Lake to test their mettle. Conveniently, the reconditioned dive is owned and operated by close friends of the singer (he co-owns another bar, Echo Park’s Short Stop, with them), so when he requests a fresh drink from the stage about six songs in, he might actually get it. He’s not just here to bring his friends business, though, but to break in the new band prior to South by Southwest. That gives the show purpose as well as intensity, and not a one of the five men onstage disappoint.
Dulli is the rare musician who does actually improve with age, finding his groove with—rather than settling into—that dreaded word, maturity.

Speaking of which, "Let’s see some titties," Dulli says, taking the stage with a Moscow Mule (ginger beer and vodka) in one hand, and grabbing a fist of Mardi Gras beads off his mic stand with the other. "That’s how you get ‘em." With that, the band launches into the new "Toward The Waves," showing a harder rock edge than Dulli’s group has in some time. The set that follows in quick succession—a judicious selection from the Twilight career, including at least one number from Amber Headlights (released under Dulli’s own name for some reason), but leaning most heavily towards Blackberry Belle—doesn’t let up for a moment. By the time "Teenage Wristband" kicks in, there are couples dry humping in every direction, this box of a club barely able to contain them.

"Are you with me?" Dulli asks the crowd as he finishes new song "Bonnie Brae." The roar that splashes back at him leaves no doubt. His voice is stronger than ever, though he certainly abuses it as always, and by this point it’s getting hoarse. "That’s it, that’s all we’ve got," he says after polishing off "Annie Mae," from the first Twilight album. "Bullshit!" is the loving response he gets back. As it turns out, Dulli was hospitalized less than 48 hours prior with a lung infection. But the crowd seems to forgive that his consumption of alcohol and cigarettes on stage is just shy of its usual flow. After a few more funky numbers driven by drummer Bobby MacIntyre, the band retreats but the crowd doesn’t budge.

"Give yourselves a hand or we’re leaving," says Dulli back on stage. He takes the mic in his hand like a possessed evangelist for "Candy Cane Crawl," followed by "Underneath The Waves" and the first album’s "Twilight Kid."

When you’ve seen a band frequently enough to chart their growth from gig to gig and record to record, what can be said about a semi-secret show played in a venue a fraction of the size they can rock?

There wasn’t a dry crotch in the house.

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