Pop: Less ego and more mania, please

AFGHAN WHIGS SUBTERANIA, LONDON

GREG DULLI fancies himself a bit. He's got a right to, in some ways. With his smart clothes and pugilist looks, he's read about himself as a pin-up for the alternative scene many times. His group's fusion of vigorous rock chords, intense soul, and screaming of highly personal lyrics have achieved acres of press and a devoted following that will ensure their existence for years to come.

Two days before their main stage slot at Reading Festival, the Whigs had promised an intimate warm-up gig. The night started well with them putting deep soul influences upfront with an intro featuring gospel wailing from new singer Susan Marshall. By dropping "If I Were Going" and "Debonair" into the set early on, it looked like a brisk run through of favourites from their Gentlemen and Black Love albums was on the cards. Even some jamming and a workout that pitched "Papa was a Rolling Stone" with "Brick in the Wall" was interesting, and Marshall's full-on southern gospel number intensified the atmosphere.

Dulli then started his night of crass banter, jabbering on in a mock accent that was either meant to be Scottish or Cockney. It was briefly back to business with "What Jail is Like". Here was the atmosphere, the intensity, the explicit dangers of the alienation experienced in sexual relationships that drag out too long. The essence of their songs could probably be pinpointed to that moment in a druggy partnership when there's been a huge bust-up, and you find yourselves lying in bed together with screaming headaches, convinced the person lying next to you is capable of knifing you there and then.

On record, particularly on 1993's amazing Gentlemen, it can be scary, and live it can be no less disturbing; none more so than with "Faded", 10 minutes of aural sexual intensity that closed the set. The sex theme continued when the band returned, as Dulli had his own private 20-minute love-in. That stupid accent returned, clumsy stage dives occurred, and he took a cheesy shining to someone in the crowd called Natasha. There were sarcastic jibes directed at Shed Seven and the Manic Street Preachers, and when he did strap on a guitar to sing Prince's "I Could Never Take the Place Of Your Man", he proved only that his voice was shot.

Dulli's antics recalled those by Evan Dando, just before Reading a few years ago. Given the stripped-down power of the new material, and that when the Whigs get on with it they are one of the most intense live spectacles around, it's hoped that this is an aberration. What the Whigs have is too precious to be wasted on one man's ego.

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