Probably the biggest surprise of the Afghan Whigs show last night at the Ogden came right before the end of the set when Greg Dulli revealed that his band had a Colorado connection. He told us how more than two decades ago, the Fluid heard a Whigs demo tape and sent it to Sub Pop, resulting in the Whigs being signed to the then fledgling label. When the two bands later played a show in Seattle together (the Afghan Whigs first), the Fluid left quite an impression: "If anyone asked me what rock and roll is," he said, "I would play the Fluid for them. One of the greatest rock and roll bands of all time."
Whenever the Afghan Whigs would come to town, Dulli said he'd stay with the late Ricky Kulwicki. After noting that Matt Bischoff and James Clower of the Fluid were in the audience, and that the Whigs would see Garrett Shavlik in Seattle and John Robinson in L.A., Dulli dedicated a searing, soulful version of "Faded" to Kulwicki, which fittingly faded into the back end of "Purple Rain." At the very end, Dulli introduced the band, including "yours truly" -- rhyming with his own name of course -- as if Dulli needed any introduction. And then he said, "Take me away!" just like Prince and left the stage.
The show started off with a disco ball glittering motes of light against the walls in a whirling motion, as the Afghan Whigs took the stage to enthusiastic cheers. Without much in the way of preamble, the band went directly into "Crime Scene Part One." You kind of wanted to compare it to other stuff as a frame of reference, but this is one of those bands that really is in a category of its own other than "rock." But there was nothing generic about this music or the performance. When Greg Dulli belted out the anguished passages, you really felt that pain and also the catharsis. It was like he was reliving those moments on stage.
Musically, Rick McCollum and Dave Rosser, alongside Dulli, made great use of three guitars. This was most dramatically and impressively displayed during "Crazy" and even Dulli remarked, "This is why we have three guitars." Rosser did some beautiful slides in the middle, while McCollum and Dulli played completely different aspects of the melody. It wasn't just volume or thickness to the music; it added real depth, and seeing a band make real use of three guitars is too rare.
One of the most endearing moments came during the performance of "Best of My Love" going into "66." Dully saw someone texting in the audience and told him to stop in song. When the song finished, Dulli also picked up a can someone had thrown and said, "Is the stage your trashcan?" And he got the guy to come up and take the can. "Crush that shit on the floor. Let's make some rules. No texting, no throwing shit on stage, this is my house."
And to cap off the entire incident, he said, "None of that white people shit." Dulli is one of the few performers ever to do that sort of thing and more should. But he can do it not just because of the respect he established with the audience before the show ever started, but because he didn't do it with hostility but rather with a firm and friendly reminder that some standards need to be maintained to maintain the vibe of the show.
The band played the hits you'd hope to hear, but it also switched things up with covers for intros or outros, as mentioned previously, including "Who Do You Love?" into "Fountain and Fairfax," and, during the encore, Pegboy's "Jesus Christ" into "Somethin' Hot." It was seamless, and the Whigs made everything its own. With a lot of sonic variety from bluesy, blustery rock and almost torch song pop to proto-emo fireballs of soulful ballads and smoky R&B, the Whigs put on an impressive display of emotional delivery.
Sure, John Curley looked calm and assured but there was an undeniable intensity there that comes from absolute conviction and confidence in the material. Cully Symington smiled from behind the kit and seemed to thunder through those drums without overpowering the music. And, of course, Rick Nelson switched effortlessly between cello, violin and keys and added that little something that coursed through the songs. During "See and Don't See," Dulli came down into the audience with a wireless mike -- something musicians of his renown pretty much never do.
The whole show ended with "Omerta," which resolved into "She Loves You" by the Beatles but transformed into a song, perhaps only half serious, in which Dulli changed the lyrics so it allowed him to sing, "If he doesn't love you, come meet me backstage. I'll love you yeah, yeah, yeah." This is something the band did throughout, like some kind of old time R&B band that would work standards in with its own material and engage the audience in playful quasi banter. If this was just a reunion, at least the Afghan Whigs came and showed us what rock and roll could be -- and more often should be.
The show opened with a strong performance from Denver's the Knew. Some local bands struggle with that transition from the small stage to something like the Ogden, but the Knew commanded it. Jacob Hansen and Tyler Breuer leapt about and seemed possessed by the music. Tim Rynders needed to pay closer attention to the rhythm on bass, but he seemed inspired by the power of his band's music as well. And former Backbeat scribe Andy Thomas brought an even further level of coherence to the band's sound and dynamic. It was like everyone else knew they could cut loose even more than before and they did.
After having seen the band numerous times, this performance stood out, and the audience, many of whom probably didn't know who the Knew was before this night, were warm, appreciative and enthusiastic. The guys played a lot from their latest, and best, album Man Monster. The compelling mixture of power pop with creatively bluesy rock and roll definitely won some people over because the foursome performed as though their lives depended on it. But, to their credit, they pretty much always do.
Bias: I liked the Afghan Whigs before this show. Now I love the Whigs. Also, Greg Dulli was one of my favorite interviewees. Sharp and articulate.
Random Detail: Without knowing too much about the connection between the Afghan Whigs and The Fluid, I had worn my own Fluid t-shirt to the show on a complete fluke.
By the Way: For many of us in the Denver music scene, such as it is, Ricky Kulwicki of the Fluid, if you knew him, and I considered him a dear friend, was like the brother you wish you had. Thanks, Dulli, for honoring Ricky in such a warm, real way. You're one of the classiest people in rock and roll alive today.
The Afghan Whigs Ogden Theatre - 10/30/12 Denver, CO
Crime Scene Part One Debonair Uptown Again What Jail Is Like Conjure Me When We Two Parted/Over My Dead Body (Drake cover) Gentlemen Best Of My Love (The Emotions cover)/66 Crazy My Enemy See and Don't See (Marie Queenie Lyons cover) Lovecrimes (Frank Ocean cover)/Wicked Games (The Weekend cover) Going to Town Who Do You Love? (Bo Diddley cover)/Fountain and Fairfax Faded/Purple Rain (Prince cover)
Encore Jesus Christ (Pegboy cover)/Somethin' Hot Omerta/She Loves You (Beatles cover)
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