Rare is the reunited band that comes back better than ever, but The Afghan Whigs have done just that. Original members Greg Dulli, Rick McCollum, and John Curley are smack dab in the middle of their first tour together in over a decade. Saturday’s timing was apropos too, with Metro celebrating its 30th anniversary. In “Metrospective,” AW’s past shows undoubtedly rank high on the list of pinnacle moments in the venue’s history.
In many aspects the band seemed unfazed by their decade-long breakup; yet some things were undoubtedly different. Notably absent were the liquor bottles and shots in between songs that were once rituals of an AW show. There were more cohesive performances and noticeable stamina, which were likely owed to the lack of substance enhancement. There were the pumped-up intros to some classic AW songs. There were the not-so-unusual yet always special additions to the lineup, including the horn section and backup singers. There are slimmer waistlines, shorter haircuts and a little gray around the edges. And then, undeniably, there is something different about frontman Greg Dulli.
Those who have been fans for the better part of their career know what Dulli is about—part Keith Richards, part Houdini, fearless, perhaps with an immortality complex or a death wish, standing at the rim of an abyss, waiting with an inviting grin for any who dare to join him. It was all in good fun, after all. We watched him glide right up that mountain then begin a heavy roll down the other side, so close to hitting the ground. But his descent was interrupted, as if by some divine intervention.
Appearing noticeably lucid and happy, Dulli said in a recently taped interview, “I’m a different person than I was 15 years ago, so I get to experience it on a different plane, on a different emotional and spiritual level. To me this is a great celebration of my friendship with these guys.”
So what happens when the fans come to an AW show to dance on that rim, to dangle mid-air along with Dulli and his cohorts? Well, one thing that hasn’t changed is the songs. Regardless of where the band is personally, the songs remain the same—infused with the same ardor and drama that is reenacted each time they’re played.
They treated the sold-out crowd to 19 songs in over two hours, with lots of “coverlettes” (portions of covers) before, during, and after their own songs, as has been an AW tradition. They came out of the gate with “Blame Etc.” then “John The Baptist,” accompanied by a trio of Chicago horn players and a trio of guest backup vocalists. “You My Flower,” the only track they played from their 1990 Sub Pop debut Up In It, was backed up by a little of Radiohead’s “Sail To The Moon,” and “We Two Parted” morphed into Drake’s “Over My Dead Body.” They broke into Prince’s “Little Red Corvette” at the end of the hip-shaking “66” while Stevie Nicks’ “Edge Of Seventeen” led into the roof-raising “Going To Town.” Of course there were the band’s two new singles, the mellow “See And Don’t See” originally by Marie “Queenie” Lyons, and the haunting “Lovecrimes” by Frank Ocean with Dulli at the keyboard.
Dulli was exceptionally interactive with the crowd. Soon after beginning “See And Don’t See,” he jumped down into the crowd and did a little stroll, stopping to snap photos with a lucky fan while still singing, before getting back onstage. During another pause, he graciously accepted a flower from another fan and during the break in “Neglekted,” he pulled a Springsteen, lifting a young female fan (“Marissa,” who, I was told, hailed from New York and stood third in line for this show nine hours before showtime) onstage, crooning to her and doing a little slow dance while she shook with shock and delight.
The show culminated with the emotional, hymn-like “Faded,” which Dulli dedicated to Metro owner Joe Shanahan. The following encores included “Debonair,” Thin Lizzy’s “Little Darling” (the first song Dulli, McCollom, and Curley played when they first got back together to jam, Dulli explained), and finally the slow-marching “Omerta,” the crowd chanting along, “Yeah, yeah, yeah…”
AW proved that redemption is possible. So perhaps there’s hope for the rest of us?
The Afghan Whigs have added another Chicago show to their upcoming tour. They will return to Metro on Saturday, October 27. Tickets are on sale now.
— Penelope Biver