Seven Things: The Afghan Whigs Edition

As has been documented, I am obsessed with the Afghan Whigs.

1. If you don’t know, the Afghan Whigs have released a new album, In Spades, out today.

2. I pre-ordered said album from Sub Pop, and have been listening to it on streaming since it became available to those of us who pre-ordered the album. That was on Friday, April 21 – the one year anniversary of Prince’s death.

I received the physical copy I ordered (a CD) this past Monday. It has been on repeat in my car since then. Listening via CD is vastly superior to streaming. The individual instruments are much clearer, and the lyrics are more decipherable.

3. Listening to the CD gave me an immediate appreciation for “Birdland”, the album opener; “Copernicus”; “Toy Automatic”; and “Into the Floor,” the closer. Still in love with “Arabian Heights” — I think that’s going to retain top billing for me. I also think that “I Got Lost” and “Into the Floor” may be the best album closers in Whig history.

4. The CD clocks in at a mere 35 minutes, which is just about five minutes longer than my commute. I sit in the car until it is over. Every time. I can’t help it.

I’ve tried taking the long way. Still need to sit in the car. I have tried driving slower, but it’s difficult during some of the louder songs.


5. My Unsolicited Review of In Spades

It’s a killer album, first off. I’ll just make that clear up front. Lean, but not sparse. As well as guitar, bass, and drums, many of the songs feature lush orchestration. Rick Nelson is joined by other multi-instrumentalists to fill this album with gorgeous sound. Other songs are pure rock ‘n’ roll swagger, though. John Curley on bass and Patrick Keeler on drums have outdone themselves. It’s fairly breathtaking the way the songs swing back and forth from celebration to threat.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention guitarists Dave Rosser, who joined Dulli in his Twilight Singer days, and Jon Skibic. In Spades depends on their soaring, chugging workmanship to move things along. Case in point: “Copernicus”, “Light as a Feather.”

Afghan Whigs released “Demon in Profile” as the first single, and that very much set the tone for what came next. “Demon” has Dulli on piano, lamenting desire, and contains my favorite lyrics: “I’m so far inside you now/ I am your silhouette.” They then released the driving, relentless “Arabian Heights”, and “Oriole”, the latter complete with a NSFW witchy video. The album opener, “Birdland” is different from anything the Whigs have done before, a cinematic, swelling letter from the past that leaves us in anticipation. The rest of the album delivers on big emotion with the instrumentation powering it along.

Thematically, In Spades is a departure from former Whigs albums, including their 2014 release Do to the Beast. The lyrics and album art are deeply evocative of the occult. Where in the past, Dulli seems to reflect on romantic relationships, their utter dysfunction, and their endings, on this album, he goes beyond that. In Spades aches with more than a break up. In Spades is haunted. Dulli is immersed in sorrowful memory here, and attempting to pull the curtain aside on loss, grief, and mortality.

6. The Afghan Whigs are going on tour. I bought a ticket to the show in Cincinnati. I am hoping they add a Pittsburgh show; I am not holding my breath, although their 2014 show here was amazing. I purchased the Tour Package ticket, which comes with some swag, a meet and greet – even though I’ve already ‘met’ Greg Dulli twice – and the soundcheck.

If I win a lot of money, I will buy a plane ticket to Chicago, and see that show. I’m really not holding my breath on that one.

7. I don’t do Facebook much these days. I pretty much ditched on it, and a lot of my “friends” there since the election. But I didn’t completely leave it.

Because I found a group there, of like-minded Afghan Whigs/Twilight Singers/Greg Dulli fans. We endlessly dissect songs and albums; we argue about Rick McCollum’s influence on the band; we debate the merits of wearing gold lamé or lace to the shows this tour. If you love a band, especially an off-the-beaten-path group like Afghan Whigs, I cannot emphasize this enough: Find your tribe. They will make your love grow. They will help you articulate the meaning of this artist in your life. They get you.

You need people to get you.

The Dulli Effect

“You’re going to what?” asked Flora, her face a picture of confusion.

“Wait,” said Kate, all anxiety. “How far away is Cincinnati?”

I had just gotten done telling the girls that on Friday morning, they were going to have to remember the treats they needed for their respective activity days. They were going to have to help their dad get up and get them out the door. I informed Michael that his Aunt Irene was picking him up from daycare on Thursday.

I said again, “I’m going to go out of town for the night. I’m driving to Cincinnati to see a show.”

It was something I hadn’t done since becoming a mom, traveling on a weeknight. It’s something I hadn’t done since college, probably. I had gone to Cleveland for a couple of shows — Lollapalooza when Jane’s Addiction was at the helm, and Erasure. My first solo concert had been Depeche Mode when I was still living in Erie.

But until now, I hadn’t purchased a ticket to an out-of-town concert that was taking place on a Thursday night, figuring out the logistics for my children, and informing my husband once every detail was covered.

So their confusion was understandable.

But when I heard that Greg Dulli, frontman for Afghan Whigs and Twilight Singers, was embarking on a solo tour, I didn’t hesitate to buy a ticket in October for a show on March 17. I almost bought a ticket to the Chicago show, too, but between finances and logistics, I decided that would be pushing it.

This is what Greg Dulli will do to you.

++

I meticulously planned my children’s life the week of the March 17th show. I didn’t want to miss any detail. I had requested PTO in February, so that was covered. The Flex had new tires. A fellow Pittsburgh-based Dulli fan had contacted me via Facebook, and so I had a traveling companion and someone to split the cost of a hotel with.

Michael had a ride home from daycare; the babysitter was booked; reminders for the girls were left. Dan was on board, even if a bit reluctantly. He was dealing with a lot; his friend has succumbed to her cancer that Monday, and his father was in and out of the hospital with his own cancer. But Dan didn’t breathe a word about me not making the trip; Kate was more worried.

“I don’t think you should go,” she said baldly. “I don’t like it.”

How to explain it to children? How to explain it to anyone who wasn’t a Dulli fan?

It was something I needed to do for me. It was something I needed like air and writing — something mine, something I didn’t share with my husband or my children, with whom I shared just about everything.

So I went.

++

Cincinnati was an easy drive. My traveling companion was good company — totally easy going, chatty but not overly so, undemanding. She told me about other Afghan Whigs shows she had traveled to, usually solo, usually driving back to Pittsburgh afterward. She was glad she didn’t need to do that on this trip.

We met a group of fans at a restaurant across from the venue. All of us headed into the show together, stood as a group at the front of the stage, saved spots when someone needed a drink or a bathroom break.

FB_IMG_1458427282439

We cheered for spoken word artist Derrick Brown. Screamed for Dulli and for the Afghan Whigs when most of them took the stage for the second encore. AW had been born in the Queen City, and John Curley, bassist for the band, still lived there with his family. Heck, Dulli’s mom still lived in Cincinnati; she was at the show. Curley was at the show as well; he had come to say hi to some of the group I was with beforehand.

Yes, John Curley came up to the group I was standing with, greeted a number of them by name, talked about leaving his daughters home for the evening (they are teenagers, brave, brave man).

And this is the thing that is hard to capture about this experience. Yes, something about Greg Dulli is magnetic, is compelling. It goes beyond the old cliche of being a rock star that women want to fuck and men want to be. Far beyond.

Dulli captures a darkness in his music that many of us have dwelled in. The addictive appeal of the bad relationship, the desire to be in pain and to cause pain, and the plain old nature of addiction, the inability to break free. I have often wondered at how many men are Dulli fans, but then again, we’ve all been there haven’t we? With the wrong person, hopelessly in thrall to their spells or to our own fears of loneliness.

This is the appeal of Greg Dulli, this and the pure virile swagger of the man, undiminished — nay, nearly enhanced — by the years. This plus the sheer normalcy and sweetness in the rest of the band. Of Dave Rosser and Jorge Sierra coming out to chat after the show, taking pictures with and offering beers to those of us still hanging out. Greg is there too, signing autographs, and making Derrick Brown take pictures of him with the fans standing in line for a moment to chat.

Somehow we want to communicate to him that he touches us, that he has reached us. He takes it all in stride, giving each person his attention, his total focus for a minute or two.

And we are refreshed, our faith is renewed. We turn away, alive again.

Some fans travel on, back to their home bases, to their normal lives; some fans, more than a few, go onto the next show, and the next one after that.

Me and my travel buddy — we headed back to Pittsburgh the next day. I had a phone interview at 3 pm, and then many more child-related things to tend to. My father-in-law was back in the hospital; my husband needed me.

And I was there. I was there because for a few hours I was able to be away.

To have one thing that was all mine. Just for me.

edited_1458279713539

Year in Review: Album of the Year/Artist of the Year, 2014

AW-banner

photo credit for banner image: Brad Searles

Early in 2014, I was patiently awaiting the new Black Keys album; their single “Fever” clearly pointed a band in a new direction, and I was looking forward to Turn Blue.

In the meantime, I needed something new to listen to. I poked around on Spotify, but didn’t find anything interesting to me. I headed over the First Listen on NPR Music.

“After a 16-year-hiatus,” I read, “the Afghan Whigs are back with Do to the Beast.”

Oh, yeah, I’d heard of them. I had never really listened to them, though. Wonder if they are going to be any good after a 16-year-hiatus.*

*click play*

The opening track kicked down the door to my aural pleasure center, and I was utterly, completely hooked.

Do to the Beast (D2TB) got more listens from me this year than any album on my top 10 list. It’s not an album of singles, for one thing. Almost any other album today, I can pick or choose a song or two, and then move onto another artist. But with Do to the Beast, I have to start at the top and listen all the way through.

The music is driving and virile, haunting, full of dark imagery, vengeful wishes, and regret. Front man Greg Dulli is a charismatic motherfucker. He is not a pretty boy; he doesn’t have a huge vocal range. But he unmistakably knows how to get a listener’s attention. “If time can incinerate what I was to you,” he wails on “Parked Outside”, “Allow me to illustrate how the hand becomes the fuse.”

Greg Dulli, leader of Afghan Whigs
Greg Dulli, image by Janet Gray

Like its predecessor Gentlemen — released this year as Gentlemen at 21 — Do to the Beast seems to be about the dissolution of a significant relationship. Unlike Gentlemen, which Dulli fully acknowledges is about an explosive breakup, Do to the Beast is the fuller, more mature reflection on the way things fall apart. There is a third player in this dynamic — “It kills to watch you love another,” Dulli sings on “It Kills.” On “Lost in the Woods”, my favorite on D2TB, he sneers, “Surprise, surprise, I’ll have you know I’ve come to see you die.” Later on the same track, he laments, “Baby, sitting outside in the cold, I can see that you’re not alone. That’s vanity swallowing you.”

The other outstanding track, for me, on D2TB is the no-holds-barred “Matamoros.” Clocking in at a lean 2:43, in the midst of a chugging bass line and swooping guitars, Dulli blows up the scene, hurt and lashing out at a betrayal. “I’m so excited you decided to come over and beg,” he sings, and one can picture him leaning back and lighting up a cigar, enjoying the groveling. “I’m over you.”

The great thing about discovering a band that’s relaunched itself is that there’s a whole backlog of great music to plunge into. Dulli, having disbanded the Whigs in 2001, continued to make music with the Twilight Singers, and with Mark Lanegan of Screaming Trees fame, as the Gutter Twins. (Hence my earlier * — this guy never stopped making music.) This iteration of the Afghan Whigs features Dulli and bassist John Curley, the only two original members. Yet the music explores the themes of earlier Afghan Whigs albums, fusing bombastic rock sensibility with swaggering R&B sensuality to talk about love, lust, betrayal, longing, and revenge.

John Curley of the Afghan Whigs
John Curley, image by Janet Gray

The other great thing about discovering the Afghan Whigs now is getting to see them hit the tour circuit again. I saw them in September, and got to meet the band members after the show (along with about 100 of their biggest fans). This band is known for their stage show, their loyal and obsessed fan base (among which I can now count myself), and for sticking around afterward for meet and greets. And hugs.

The author and Greg Dulli
Me and Greg Dulli after the Pittsburgh show. I can’t stop grinning.

Who topped your list musically or artistically in 2014?

Memory Lane: 1994

So, SPIN Magazine released its list of the 100 Best Alt-Rock Songs of 1994, and I basically fell down a rabbit hole. This is the soundtrack to my 23rd year.

I was a hot mess, but damn, the music was fantastic.

A few of these songs remind me of a short-lived abusive relationship I was in with a drug addict (short-lived because he was an abusive drug addict, der). See: Suede; Smashing Pumpkins.

A number of these songs remind me of The Ex, a man I would spend the next four years with, give or take a few months in the middle there. (We were on a break!) See: Liz Phair, “Supernova”; Guided by Voices, “I am a Scientist”; Pearl Jam, “Better Man”.

But most of these songs remind me of being single and feeling fierce, which is how I spent most of 1994. I had a pierced lip and a tattoo, and I was Gen X to a T — a pot-smoking, aimless slacker living on my own. I had a job and was freelance writing, and spent most of my money on rent and beer at Dee’s Cafe on the South Side.

I don’t remember “Possum Kingdom” being so rapey. I do remember Urge Overkill’s version of “Girl, You’ll be a Woman Soon” being *exactly* that creepy, though.

The most nostalgic songs for me: “Something’s Always Wrong”, Toad the Wet Sprocket; “Gee Angel”, Sugar.

And talk about women in music: L7, Lisa Loeb, Hole, Breeders, the aforementioned Liz Phair, Bjork, Luscious Jackson. LUSCIOUS JACKSON! Lots more. And I remember every single word to “Seether” by Veruca Salt.

And now for a video.

I thought about posting the video for “Gentleman” by Afghan Whigs, but, two things: 1. I didn’t listen to the Afghan Whigs in 1994. They are a new obsession. 2. If I watch a 28-year-old Greg Dulli in this video one more fucking time, I’m going to turn into a puddle of quivering jelly.

I limited myself to the Top 10 songs, and I still have to post two. Point and counter point as it were.

1994 was the year Kurt Cobain put a bullet in his brain. “No Apologies” from Nirvana, from MTV Unplugged Nirvana, is a fitting elegy.

On the flip side, we have Courtney Love of Hole howling into the void with “Miss World”.

If you don’t feel like flipping through the slideshow at SPIN, here’s the link to the Spotify playlist.

What were you listening to in 1994?