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The Afghan Whigs Deliver

May 24th, 2012

The Afghan Whigs – The Bowery Ballroom – May 23, 2012

(Photo: Andie Diemer)

It had been 13 years since the Afghan Whigs last played live, enough time to bring a human from infancy to the uncomfortable stages of adolescence. While the band’s first public appearance was technically on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon on Tuesday night, playing a sold-out show at The Bowery Ballroom last night makes it officially their first show since 1999. The significance of the night and their return wasn’t lost on anyone. And they’re still incredible, obviously. Was there ever any doubt? Still completely able to sing softly, Greg Dulli’s voice has defied the tests of time, leaving fans eagerly waiting for him to launch into his signature strained and soulful bellows that at times sound more like desperate pleas than singing.

“Do you think I’m beautiful? / Or do you think I’m evil,” sang Dulli in the slow-building opener, “Crime Scene Part One.” Rick McCollum’s scorching guitar riffs set the scene for the lyrics, upping the intensity to match the force of Dulli’s voice. The band did a solid job of hitting the favorites, from the well-known and much-loved “Gentlemen” and “Debonair” to fan picks “I’m Her Slave” and “Bulletproof.” Dulli twice gave shout-outs and praise to Megan Jasper and Jonathan Poneman from Sub Pop for signing the band back in 1989, a sign that the group could sense what the night meant to their legacy.

Apparently the best way to prevent the Afghan Whigs from slipping back into retirement is by demanding that they never stop playing. After a four-song encore that included the newly released “See and Don’t See” Marie “Queenie” Lyons cover, as well as the unanticipated “Love Crimes” Frank Ocean cover, the audience wanted another encore, so the band returned to play “Miles Iz Ded.” If anyone in the crowd wanted more after that, they’ll just have to wait for when the band returns in the fall and hope that this reunion thing will last for a while. —Dan Rickershauser