The Afghan Whigs have been playing their brand of rock channeled through a heavy dose of dark soul for over 30 years. In fact, 2018 saw the 30-year anniversary of their debut Big Top Halloween. So, it’s a testament to their longevity that last year they released one of their best albums, In Spades, in their extensive catalog. Maybe it’s due to the steadfast style Greg Dulli (vocals/guitar/keys) and company — which also includes John Curley (bass), Rick G. Nelson (guitar/keys/violin), Jon Skibic (guitar), and Patrick Keeler (drums) — haven’t tried to change that unique style.
In a great show at Rams Head Live in Baltimore on Friday, The Afghan Whigs gave that style its due.
The set opened with the sounds of orchestral flourishes and choral harmonies pumped through the Rams Head speakers and then faded into the thumping rocker “Arabian Heights” from In Spades with the perfect Greg Dulli smooth growl and twin harmonizing guitars à la Heart or Thin Lizzy. The brilliant opener melded rhythmically into “Matamoros,” the dark rocker from Do The Beast. I can’t remember Greg’s vocals being so strong or the band so tight.
Most of the stage was relatively dark with each amplifier lit, showing gothic panels by artists Ramon Rodrigues Melo, who also did the album art for In Spades. It was a fitting backdrop for the dark and gritty themes in The Afghan Whigs’ music.
During a brief pause, Greg introduced the next song, by telling a story about Sam Holden, an amazing local photographer, who as Greg said “used to take my picture and the band’s picture… Sam passed away four years ago. So this song’s for Sam.” The band then played “Oriole,” a fitting title in front of this packed Baltimore crowd, with the audience clapping the intro.
After that point, Rick brought out the violin for one of my favorite songs of the new album, “Toy Automatic” and then “Heaven On Their Mind” from Jesus Christ Superstar, a brilliant cover that both stays true to the original and somehow makes it foreboding.
Throughout the night, The Afghan Whigs also played versions of older tunes like “Going to Town,” which was transformed into a ballad — but a ballad like only The Afghan Whigs could produce. And they also played “The Killer” — a song from The Twilight Singers, a band which includes both Greg Dulli and Jon Skibic — and versions of “Son of the South,” which the band played real cool like The Doors’ “Roadhouse Blues” (as Greg said, “If that shit holds up 30 years later, you’re doin’ all right”), and “Into the Floor,” which became a cover of “Boys of Summer.”
This was a stellar set with a band who are at the top of their game.
The setlist included:
Light as a Feather
What Jail Is Like
Heaven On Their Mind (from Jesus Christ Superstar)
Going to Town
Demon in Profile
The Killer (Twilight Singers song)
John The Baptist
Son of the South / Roadhouse Blues
Into the Floor / Boys of Summer
The Afghan Whigs are currently on tour with Built to Spill, and it’s one that must be experienced. Check out future dates here.
Here are some pictures of The Afghan Whigs performing at Rams Head Live on April 27, 2018. All photos copyright and courtesy of David LaMason.