Thirteen years since this band last played London, the concerns of singular frontman Greg Dulli have not changed a jot. “Please have sex up there," he asks, eyeing the balconies’ occupants. “I wanna see those ecstasy faces.”
That carnality was just one facet that helped Afghan Whigs stand out from their grunge peers, though the hulking Dulli remains one of the genre’s great survivors.
Having come through drug addiction and a bouncer-inflicted coma, the singer’s backstory is as as compelling as his stage presence. So this reunion has a more celebratory feel than most as the Cincinnati, Ohio-formed trio mark 25 years since their debut.
Sub Pop’s first signings outside of its Pacific Northwest base, the group further set themselves apart by adding funk and soul to grunge’s punk/metal palette, before mixing in Dulli’s swings between self-loathing and narcissism, far removed from the genre’s more existential angst.
Still, the Whigs were always heavy and that quality remains. Dulli has kept himself busy since the Whigs fizzled out, with long-term vehicle The Twilight Singers, his Gutter Twins collaboration with the equally grizzled Mark Lanegan and solo albums, yet nothing has matched his old group’s intensity, captured well tonight. Over coruscating riffs and terse solos, Dulli lets rip with a powerful voice still full of cathartic venom, though now more cracked and weather-beaten.
He occupies every lyric, from the twisted sexual psychodrama of “I’m Her Slave” (“Unchain yourself’, said she ‘And tie yourself to me’” provide all the bite missing from the Fifty Shades trilogy) to the sweet, cinematic lovers tale "Cite Soleil". Having evolved over six albums, the band, here reinforced as a six-piece with drummer, guitarist and multi-instrumentalist, have a business-like briskness about them. The all-rounder’s violin and cello often gets subsumed into the collective wall of sound, though plenty of curveballs suggest a band never happy to be pigeonholed. The perky drum machine beat and insistent hooks of "66" would fit with contemporary pop-rock from Fun. and Foster The People, except for Dulli’s lascivious vocal.
Covers leaven the Whigs’ hard rocking, with Radiohead’s "Sail The Moon" providing an especially gentle reverie amid the primal sludge of ‘You My Flower’. More engrossing are the pared down version of Marie 'Queenie’ Lyons’ funk obscurity "See And Don’t See" and a heartfelt take on Frank Ocean’s bruised "Lovecrimes", with Dulli on keys.
Shagging in the gods? No chance, when all eyes are fixed on him.