Seattle Show Review
Afghan Whigs serve up grungy soul, as upbeat Greg Dulli steals the show
Papa’s got a brand new toy.
Perhaps you have read one of the music-magazine interviews in which alternative rocker Greg Dulli talked about being treated for depression. Judging by last night’s Afghan Whigs show at a packed Showbox, Dulli is out of his blue period and into Brown.
The show started with funky music and a master of ceremonies calling out “Are you ready to party?” – shades of a James Brown revue. After more anticipatory funk riffs from his musicians, Dulli finally swaggered onto stage, a drink in one hand, cigarette cocked in a devilish grin. Dulli spent the next two hours playing with his new toy, a big band. The Afghan Whigs, normally a four-man group, has doubled manpower for this tour, adding a piano player and a three-person chorus. Like Beck, though in a much more playful way,Dulli has discovered his soul roots. This is the underlying theme of “1965,” the new Afghan Whigs album that was recorded in New Orleans, where Dulli lived for a year before returning to Seattle. (He is originally from Ohio, and moved to Seattle when Sub Pop signed his band.) Dressed in black, and occasionally wearing the kind of hat pimps wore in ’70s movies, Dulli channeled the soul spirit throughout the show. At one point, churchlike organ music played as Dulli took on the role of the Southern preacher, telling the crowd how he was here to talk about love. “It’s all you (messed-up) people – myself included – who can’t get a relationship to work.” Later, he gave a Brown-esque extended introduction of the musicians, including guitarist Rick McCollum and bassist John Curley, both original Whigs, and new drummer Michael Horrigan. And, by the end of the show, Dulli made a show of collapsing to the stage. “I’m on my knees for you people – show a little (expletive) respect!” Actually, the crowd delighted in the grungy soul act, consistently giving Dulli proper respect. (The lone exception was someone near the front who seemed to be mocking Dulli.)
To start the concert, the band kicked up Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition,” leading directly into the Afghan Whigs’ “Going to Town,” from the underrated “Black Love” album of 1996. The song sounded terrific, with the three backup singers giving it depth. Using a soulful classic as an intro to one’s own song is quite a bold move, yet the Afghan Whigs attempted it again: Going from “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone” to Somethin’ Hot.” Both times, the musicians had the skills to back up Dulli’s cockiness. It helps that the new “Somethin’ Hot” is, indeed, a hot number itself, with great guitar parts from McCollum.
Though Dulli’s singing is hardly a thing of beauty, he more than makes up for it with charisma, showmanship, impeccable timing – and reckless intrepidity. Before closing the show with “Omerta,” from the new album, he was brazen enough to throw the Beatles and Rolling Stones into the encore. He may be a beast, but Greg Dulli is no burden, which is why his fans love him (yeah, yeah, yeah).
by Tom Scanlon
Special to The Seattle Times
Copyright © 1998 The Seattle Times Company