The Afghan Whigs at Varsity Theater, 10/28/12

Categories: Last Night
Photo by Steve Cohen
The Afghan Whigs
With Wussy
Varsity Theater, Minneapolis
Sunday, October 28, 2012

"What else you got? I want you naked in three more songs," the Afghan Whigs' Greg Dulli called to the adoring person who threw a sparkling black scarf onstage amid "What Jail is Like," from 1993's Gentlemen. "I'm not joking," the group's fearless frontman added.

For the sold-out assembly at Varsity Theater on Sunday, it was apparent from the Ohio-bred rockers' opening montage of lights redder than blood, dramatic synthesizer intro, and eventually the snow machine painting the air a glimmering white, that everything about the night -- as over-the-top as it might've seemed in most other contexts -- was no joke. This must be what reunion tours are really like.

See Also:
The Afghan Whigs' Greg Dulli on meeting Frank Ocean and the art of the cover
Afghan Whigs turn a new leaf: Greg Dulli opens up about vices and the band's reunion

Ocasionally preening and mostly just self-assured, Dulli led his black-clad band through a satisfying look back at their three most recent albums, Gentlemen, Black Love (1996), and 1965 (1998), as well as some covers and a handful of earlier gems. The first offering, which came with the aforementioned blizzard was "Crime Scene Part One." At the surging moment when the three guitar attack hit mid-song, Dulli sings "Do you think I'm beautiful/ Or do you think I'm evil?" And for the majority of the night, he proved those two descriptors don't have to be mutually exclusive.

No motion is a wasted endeavor when you're dealing with the now-sober frontman. As the Afghan Whigs muscled into "I'm Her Slave," from 1992's Congregation, Dulli began testing the dimensions of the stage, toying with his black Gibson, swiveling his feet, dramatically turning his back when the lights shifted, and even blowing a subtle kiss to the heavens like a professional athlete. All made the team around him, onstage and off, rally harder.

After more than a decade apart -- excepting a few shows here and there -- the Afghan Whigs as a live are possibly better than they ever were before. If the wrinkles of age and perspective can make a band better, this is how to execute. But then again, the fellow Whigs assembled in front of a velvet curtain weren't entirely the band that recorded all this admittedly unfuckwithable material.

Add versatile multi-instrumentalist Rick Nelson, who also tours with Dulli for the Twilight Singers, who ably hopped between the keys and strings all night. Guitarist Dave Rosser (Gutter Twins) filled out the three-guitar attack and pierced the night with his backing vocals. And it should come as little surprise that drummer Cully Symington also lends his rhythmic gifts to Okkervil River on one end of the sonic spectrum and Cursive on the other.

Photo by Steve Cohen
Limber long-time member Rick McCollum flying as close to the sun as possible without melting his wings on slide guitar for "Crazy." The group's other original, bassist John Curley, massaged the necessary low end out of his instrument to push the urgency of "My Enemy" and plumb then depths for tear-jerker "When We Two Parted."

For the latter, Dulli showed the first of several stratospheric climbs with his vocal cords. As the night unfolded, more evidence of the "midnight rides" he now takes with his upper range flew at the adoring crowd like the sharpest of needles. This was a crowd ready to bleed for him. The song closed with a coda featuring a choice bit of rapper Drake's "Over My Dead Body," which speaks unequivocally to the spell popular hip-hop and R&B have cast over this noisy, punk-postured group from their earliest days.

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