(Photo by Daniel Kielman)
The Afghan Whigs originally broke up in 2001 and while they reunited a few times over the course of the years it never seemed like a true reunion until 2012. Amid turmoil and fatigue the band called it quits, and even though they performed in different incarnations, any sign of new material under their moniker seemed unlikely. Shockingly the band announced earlier this year that a new album would be released (Do to the Beast) and a proper tour would commence. Founding members frontman Greg Dulli and bassist John Curley (with new lineup including Cully Symington, Rick Nelson, Dave Rosser, Jon Skibic and Mark McGuire) graced the Slim’s stage last night to bring their influential mix of black humor and sexual conquest amid R&B influences and grunge rock riffs to great impact. The reunion couldn’t have been more appreciated by the eager crowd to see what they may have missed when the band originally toured in their heyday.
The past few years have been great for reunions like this, where lesser-known rock bands from the ’90s reuniting to great tours so fans (such as myself) finally get a chance to catch these bands live when they were missed in their prime, with the injection of new material to boot. Getting the privilege of seeing a somewhat-reunited (drummer Steve Earle and original lead guitarist Rick McCollum are MIA and probably will remain that way) is still an opportunity not to pass up and I wasn’t disappointed. Their latest album is a natural extension of where the band left off with their last album 16 years ago and they mixed a selection of those songs with plenty of hits from their catalogue that fans were more than eager to eat up as they delivered each one after another, including some unique covers as the band is known for.
Toronto band Early Winters opened the show and while their sound may not match the hard music of The Afghan Whigs they still seemed to be a fitting match to get the night started. The crowd respectfully gave great attention to the band as they performed their slow-rock songs. Singer and keyboardist Carina Round put it aptly as she told the audience “We are here to rock you…gently.” The music may have been more somber than what was to come but it set the tone right and the band appreciated the excited crowd.
When The Afghan Whigs took the stage the crowd couldn’t have been more rapturous and ready to rock. Greg Dulli howled through new tracks “Parked Outside” and “Matamoros” before mixing in older hits “Fountain and Fairfax” and “Going to Town”. It was clear that this would be a show that would be hard not to move to as Dulli asked the crowd, “You ready to dance?!” before the band rocked in to “Going to Town”. Joining them on stage was guest vocalist Steve Myers whom Dulli said flew in from Brooklyn just to be there. Both Dulli and Myers brought their R&B moves and voices with full confidence, both walking the stage during various songs pointing at the audience and keeping the energy high the entire time. Numerous covers were performed during the night as The Afghan Whigs are known to do, including partial covers of The Beatles “Getting Better” and Drake’s “Over My Dead Body,” bringing more of a sense of somberness and triumph to the songs.
By the middle of the set the band pulled out “Gentlemen” from the album of the same name and the crowd screamed along the chorus with a similar gusto Dulli gave as he marched the stage. At the final song, before coming back for an encore, Dulli opined to the audience that nowadays encores are simply expected and that “encore” is a French word meaning “go fucking crazy and bring everybody back!” and the audience was more than happy to follow the instructions. Even after a few more songs, in the first encore the audience took his translation to heart and kept shouting as the house music was already ekking on and the road manager packing up some gear. It was enough noise to bring the whole band back out before they ended the night performing a cover of the AC/DC classic “Night Prowler” dedicated to guitarist Malcolm Young for a recovery from his recent stroke and they closed out the night with “Milez is Ded”, a deep cut, but one that many happily sang along as Dulli shouted the classic chorus line “don’t forget the alcohol.” It’s always a pleasure when the band is enjoying the show as much as the audience and this was definitely one of those nights.