The music of the Afghan Whigs is a little too twisted to be called tender and a little too sweet to be called bitter.
As a songwriter, no one tangles love and lust quite so poetically as Greg Dulli, who at 47 still exudes a storm of swagger, even if he's not taking drags off a cigarette while telling 30-minute stories like the old days.
The Afghan Whigs were originally scheduled to make their triumphant live return later this year at New Jersey's All Tomorrow's Parties festival — which is being curated by Dulli — but it seems oh-so-fitting that the band decided to pick up right where they left off for their first proper concert in nearly 13 years: New York City.
Instead of coming out with a bang, the band opted for the slow burn of "Crime Scene, Part One" to start the night, building the tension to a palpable level before letting loose a barrage of hits and fan favorites on the packed crowd at the Bowery Ballroom. Lending to the dark, sultry mood that shrouded the show, the stage lights rendered the band as silhouettes for most of the evening, the color scheme alternating between the burnt oranges and blaring purples that so very well characterize a band that tends to compose in shades of dusk and twilight.
It may have taken the rest of band — which includes original members John Curley and Rick McCollum — a few songs to loosen up a bit, but all eyes were on Greg Dulli. The singer has remained active with a solo career and the Twilight Singers, so it's no surprise his voice was spot-on; Dulli still belts out the chorus of "Gentlemen" with the same brittle intensity he always has.
When the band returned for their encore, a three-piece string section in tow, Dulli showed off the fact that, in another life, he could have been an R&B singer, crooning the band's latest number, a cover of Marie Queenie Lyons' "See and Don't See," before taking a spot at the piano for a surprise cover of Frank Ocean's "Love Crimes." The evening's closer was the noise- and alcohol-drenched "Miles Iz Ded," a hidden bonus track on 1993's Congregation that has since taken on a life of its own as a favorite of Whigs die-hards.
These sorts of reunions walk a fine line, with bands often risking the possibility of coming across as museum pieces on stage. While nostalgia was certainly the flavor of the evening — "We're from the future, where the present is the past," said Dulli when he finally addressed the crowd, playfully jabbing at that very notion — you'd be hard-pressed to find an occasion on which nostalgia felt so vital.
Will this incarnation of the Afghan Whigs fare well over the long term? Will they successfully avoid the museumification that has plagued so many of their peers? Will we see a new album? All these questions and more will be answered with time, but today there's one thing for sure: After all these years, Greg Dulli is still the man your mother warned you about.