Whigs Surprise Show
It was the worst-kept secret in town.
For about a week, rumors circulated about an unannounced Afghan Whigs show at Top Cat’s. The Cincinnati band was even using the pseudonym, “Havana Sugar Kings,” from its last “surprise” show a couple years back. So people started lining up outside the Corryville club early Friday night. By the time the Afghan Whigs hit the stage at almost midnight, they faced a shoulder-to-shoulder crowd of 450. It was a fitting end to a big week for the Whigs, one that included the release Tuesday of its second disc for Elektra Records, Black Love and with an appearance Thursday on Late Night With Conan O’Brien. With the band leaving for Europe this week, a final hometown show is a Whigs tradition. The group fielded its largest lineup yet, as the core quartet – lead singer/rhythm guitarist Greg Dulli, bassist John Curley, guitarist Rick McCollum and drummer Paul Buchignani – was augmented by Barbara Hunter on cello, Shawn Smith on keyboards and, channeling the Sweet Inspirations, backup singer Doug Falsetti. The Whigs have long been known for their dense sound, but the added instrumentation gave the music breadth as well as depth, lending Mr. Dulli’s dramatic sense of dynamics even greater impact. At least while the sound system was working. Twice during the 90-minute show, the P.A. blew out. Undaunted, the band continued the songs instrumentally until the microphones came back on. The evening got off to a strong start when the Whigs tore into their first single from Black Love, “Honky’s Ladder,” a menacing song of implied and explicit violence that prominently features a 12-letter Oedipal expletive. The bulk of the show was drawn from the new album, in songs that dealt with emotional rather than physical damage, the pain at the razor’s edge when true love becomes a lie. But as he sang of love’s agonies, he couldn’t have looked happier. Eerily resembling the young John Lennon (whom he vocally portrayed in the film Backbeat), Mr. Dulli grinned and waved at friends, joked about it being Mr. Curley’s 53rd Birthday (it was actually his 31st) and even took the power outages in stride. The crowd was just as good-humored. As they sang on the Whigs usual finale, shouting the memorable chorus, “Don’t forget the alcohol. Ooh baby, ooh baby,” Top Cat’s looked a lot more like a frat party than a clandestine concert by Cincinnati’s leading alternative rock band. June 8, the Afghan Whigs will drop the “Havana Sugar Kings” for an official concert at Bogart’s.