The Afghan Whigs.
(photo credit: PR)
When Grug Dulli spoke to The Jerusalem Post two years ago in the midst of a celebrated reunion tour by his fabled 1990s alternative rock icons The Afghan Whigs, he was ambivalent about the notion of recording new music with the refurbished band.
“I’m not saying yes and not saying no. Right now, I’m just enjoying the moment and the situation. I’ll react when and if I need to – now I’m in a ‘having a good time’ moment,” Dulli said from a tour stop in Rome ahead of the Whigs’s triumphant 2012 Israel debut at the Barby Club in Tel Aviv.
Evidently, the "good time" moment continued, as the band's first album in 16 years "Do To The Beast" was released early last year.
And the band is back on the road, albeit without founding guitarist Rick McCollum.
A true band of the 1990s – with six albums and EPs released between 1990 and 1998 when they imploded – the Whigs set themselves apart from their alternative rock brethren by focusing on Dulli’s angst-filled lyrics and incorporating nuanced rhythmic suppleness into their music that fused post punk grunge with soul and r&b-inflected grooves.
Their reunion tour captured the band at a new peak, and the soldout shows and fawning reviews softened Dulli’s rock ‘n’ roll heart with a dose of sentimentality.
“Who doesn’t like to be liked? When you do something that someone appreciates, I would defy the individual to say they didn’t enjoy that. I’ve been moved by the response,” he said at the time.
Capturing that live vibe in the studio without simply rehashing the band’s trademark sound proved to be a bigger challenge. While generally receiving positive reviews, the attempt to reboot The Afghan Whigs for a new century was only partially successful.
The All Music Guide wrote in its review: “Do to the Beast is an ambitious attempt to recreate the feeling of the Afghan Whigs while retooling their sonic fingerprint; the final product is intelligent and often fascinating, but it doesn’t deliver like the Afghan Whigs do at their best and ultimately comes off as a brave but somewhat unsatisfying experiment.”
Dulli responded to similar criticism with the same punk rock attitude that has typified his approach to music-making since he was a teen in Cincinnati, Ohio, listening to Patti Smith and the New York Dolls.
“I’m very aware of the legacy that we’re engaging because I helped create it. But if we wanted to keep going, we had to go further,” he told Rolling Stone last year upon the album’s release.
“Once we decided to do this album without Rick, I felt set free to do whatever I wanted – revisit sounds I used to like and mix them with sounds I’m exploring now.
Whether or not someone agrees with my methodology — well, there are no rules in rock ‘n’ roll.
And if there were, I would’ve surely broken them.”
Regardless of whether Afghan Whigs’s new music stands up to their legacy, onstage the band is still clicking on all cylinders, even with the adrenaline and excitement of the reunion tour behind them. A review in The Herald of their current tour’s opening show in Dublin earlier this month describes a band that is enjoying its second life: “Dulli won’t be kept to the one spot, and as he shuffles from high-spirited, axe-wielding warrior to emotional keyboard balladeer, a strong and consistently tight ensemble of players on each side, we’re reminded that when it comes to rock ‘n’ roll in 2015, there just ain’t enough band leaders like this one.”
Citing “colossal riffs,” “big, soulful choruses” and “E Street Band-like grooves,” the review concluded that the show consisted of a “super band, super songs, super delivery.”
That’s what Afghan Whigs’s Israeli fans are counting on when the current tour arrives in Israel next week. Their show at the Barby Club on February 24 sold out so quickly that another date was added for the following night.
Dulli is no stranger to Tel Aviv, having performed in the city a number of times in recent years with his post-Whigs projects, The Twilight Singers and The Gutter Twins, his duo with follow grungeera survivor Mark Lanegan – who is also returning to Israel for a show in April.
“Tel Aviv is a dynamic international city with a lot of smart people, great fashion and food. I’ve met a lot of amazing people, and there’s this great energy everywhere,” Dulli told The Jerusalem Post
in his 2012 interview.
That energy level will only rise when the Afghan Whigs return to town.