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LIVE REPORT: Afghan Whigs At Koko
Aug Stone , August 21st, 2012 04:48

Words: Aug Stone.

Pictures courtesy of Maria Jefferis/Shot2Bits

Bathed in sultry red light, the stage and backdrop curtain are more than a little evocative of The Black Lodge from Twin Peaks as the opening organ chords of ‘Crime Scene Part 1’ wash over the congregation. Soon the band walk on, to wild cheering, and Greg Dulli casually strolls to the mic. Cool as ever, his relaxed vocals fall just a little behind the overly-enthusiastic crowd singing along to every word. The beautiful furtiveness of ‘Crime Scene’ storms straight into ‘I’m Her Slave’ then ‘Uptown Again’. Only then does Dulli address the audience, with a short hello. He’s on the quiet side tonight, not his usual talkative self, though he does entreat those in the upper balconies to ‘please have sex up there’. One wonders if he’s having trouble with his voice, though you’d never know it by his performance, full of soaring falsettos and an impressively prolonged scream in ‘Fountain & Fairfax’. Truth be told, the sound is a problem. Only the drums and, thankfully, Dulli’s voice are at all clear. You can see John Curley’s muscled movements around his bass but can’t hear any of the melodic low-end. Same with Rick McCollum, whose fluid guitar work only occasionally stands out from the muddled hum of the band. A shame as the performance is all there, it’s just not translating into the magic they’ve conjured up over the years.

After ‘What Jail Is Like’ and ‘Fountain & Fairfax’, they ‘stay on Gentlemen awhile’ with a deliciously delicate ‘When We Two Parted’ and the title track. At one point Dulli urges the audience to ‘jump up and down, don’t get old yet’. But it’s not until a rapturous ‘66’ that the crowd takes these words to heart, erupting in wild joy, the energy carrying over into an enormous, unstoppable ‘My Enemy’. As that song closed to thunderous applause, it truly felt like they had reclaimed their rightful place as one of rock’s truly great bands. And one can only imagine the glorious heights they might’ve hit had they continued with something like ‘Honky’s Ladder’ or ‘Somethin’ Hot’, a puzzling omission from the set. What did follow was a surprise ‘Son Of The South’ from Up In It, heralding a slower section with their covers of Marie Lyons’ ‘See And Don’t See’ and Frank Ocean’s ‘Love Crimes’ (both recently released as free downloads).

Dulli, who has always been at least one cut above most other showmen, personally engaging with whatever city he’s in, recognizes someone from Bilbao in the crowd, ‘You made it’, and dedicates a rousing version of ‘Debonair’ to them. Then it’s ‘Cite Soleil’, ‘Omerta’, and ‘The Vampire Lanois’ from 1965 to close out the main part of the set.

Any issues with the sound or Greg’s unusual reticence were quickly forgotten with the encore, where he even announced he wouldn’t be saying anything inbetween the tunes. There was no need to as they launched into the last three songs from one of the best albums ever made, Black Love. A superb 'Bulletproof' was peppered with The Supremes’ ‘Baby Love’ (still pulling out the old snippets of covers throughout the night, as earlier ‘You My Flower’ included part of Radiohead’s ‘Sail To The Moon’). ‘Summer’s Kiss’ frantically threw itself into transcendence before Greg sang the gospel classic ‘People Get Ready’ over the intro to ‘Faded’. This exquisite rendering of the perfect closing number was made all the more stunning by segueing into ‘Purple Rain’ for its final bars. In this nearly two-hour set the Whigs were every bit as good as you remember them being. A slight shame that sub par sound didn’t allow them to fully prove it.