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The Afghan Whigs Reunited (And it Feels so Good): Concert Review

Afghan Whigs Live P
Paul Familetti

The Bottom Line

Grunge-era rockers are reunited and it feels so good, especially when they let their guard down and let their soul influences take over from their usual pummeling aural assault.

Venue

The Fonda Theatre
Hollywood, CA
(Friday, Nov. 9)

The war over battleground state Ohio ended Tuesday night, but Friday at the Fonda Theatre the reunited Cincinnati-spawned Afghan Whigs raged war with themselves, in the first of two sold-out shows. In their high-intensity songs about love gone bad, bad guys and wicked girls, singer/guitarist Greg Dulli fought off of his inner-demons and the throughout their 90-minute plus set, the band battled its rock instincts with their R&B and soul inspirations.

In terms of absolute firepower, the re-united Whigs rocking side won out. Armed with a three-guitar attack; a multi-instrumentalist on keyboards, cello and violin; and a pair of back-up singers, the band added a soulful twist to the loud-soft dynamic made famous by the Pixies and one-time Sub Pop labelmates Nirvana. During the encore, which included "Bulletproof," "Summer's Kiss," and "Faded" -- the final three songs from 1996's "Black Love" -- the Whigs displayed a sheer aural assault that at different times recalled the Rolling Stones at their most majestic and Husker Du's wall-of-noise, but by throwing in a bit of "Purple Rain" at the end, they only highlighted the fact that they've yet to write anything as memorable at Prince.

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And all of that intensity, drama and volume got tedious at times, especially when Dulli broke into his trademark scream that occasionally bordered on shrieking. Wisely, they brought things down toward the end of the set with Dulli sitting down at the keyboard to offer the Whigs' cover of Frank Ocean's mixtape gem "Love Crimes." The song -- which is the first new recording by the reunited band, available for a free download on their website -- not only shows that Dulli can be a credible soul singer, but proves he has impeccable taste with his ability to identify the appeal of a relative obscurity. At the Fonda, Dulli mashed up "Love Crimes" with "Wicked Games," a song by another promising neo-soul act, The Weeknd. That was followed by a duet with opener Van Hunt on his "Mean Sleep," in which Dulli dropped his macho-rock posturing and let his soul side shine in a segment that was the night's highlight. They also opened their own "66" with a bit of Al Green's "Let's Stay Together" and threw in a bit of Prince's "Little Red Corvette" for good measure.

Of course the band's longtime fanboys were perfectly satisfied with vintage barnburners like "My Enemy," which had some members of the crowd fist-pumping and shouting the song's lyrics along with Dulli.

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Instrumentally, the Whigs haven't lost a step since parting in 1998 following the release of "1965," their seventh and final album. Original members bassist John Curley and guitarist Rick McCollum remained sharp, with touring drummer Cully Symington particular effective on "Debonair," the 1993 track that might best merge the Whigs' rock instincts with their soul aspirations. Throughout it all, Rick Nelson, from Dulli's post-Whigs project Twilight Singers, provided tasteful touches on keyboards, cello and violin.

It remains to be seen if the Whigs' 2012 reunion will continue after their hometown New Year's Eve show in Cincinnati. At the Fonda, they showed some convincing reasons to continue the fight.

Fellow Ohioan Van Hunt opened the show with a 45-minute set accompanying himself on electric guitar. Once a pick-to-click who issued two promising albums on Capitol before going the indie route, the singer-songwriter showed he's still worthy  of our attention by busting out soulful takes of Simon & Garfunkel's "Mrs. Robinson" and KISS's "Rock And Roll All Nite" alongside his own "Seconds of Pleasure" and "Eyes Like Pearls."    

Set List:

Crime Scene Part One
I'm Her Slave
Uptown Again
What Jail Is Like
Conjure Me
When We Two Parted/Dead Body
Gentlemen
Debonair
Magazine
My Enemy
Son Of The South
See And Don't See
Love Crimes/Wicked Games
Mean Sleep
Let's Stay Together / 66 / Little Red Corvette
Fountain and Fairfax

Encore:

Bullet Proof
Summer's Kiss
Faded / Purple Rain

Twitter: @THRMusic

Paul Familetti