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by Rob Harvilla

November 16, 2012

An Evening With Afghan Whigs

by Rob Harvilla  |  November 16, 2012

The Afghan Whigs' 1993 psycho-sexual grunge-soul masterpiece Gentleman was the coolest CD I owned in high school, which may indeed be faint praise (the first CD I ever owned was Spin Doctors' Pocket Full of Kryptonite), and yet. I got it through one of those 11-records-for-a-penny mail-order deals, drawn in consciously by lascivious frontman Greg Dulli's feral howls on minor radio hit "Debonair" and subconsciously by the parental-antagonism vibes of the album cover. Within, 11 thrilling and caustic tunes about drugs, lust, abandonment, and self-abasement, -loathing, –destruction. It was way beyond my maturity level, and may in fact remain so. It was also awesome, and definitely remains so.

The Cincinnati quartet styled themselves very explicitly as the blackest-sounding band of white dudes in alternative rock -- check the parental-antagonism vibes on the cover of their 1992 Sub Pop breakthrough, Congregation, and the whole New Orleans brass-funeral vibe of their astounding 1998 swan song, 1965. Their sound is vicious but agile, soulful but soullessly hedonistic, the rage of vintage post-punk delivered with the hard-fought joy of vintage R&B. And as the ringleader, Dulli was always just mesmerizing, a hard-drinking/-eating/-loving/-living lothario prone to come-ons like "Unlock the cabinet baby/ I'll take whatever you got."

I was super-depressed when they broke up after 1965, even if Dulli's subsequent work as The Twilight Singers has often been nearly as fantastic. I was thus thrilled when they re-formed for the usual round of gala reunion shows this year – last week I saw 'em at the Fillmore in S.F., Dulli in fantastic form and voice and affect, roaring through burners from "Son of the South" to "Uptown Again" to the all-time grunge torch song "When We Two Parted," appended with a few lines from Drake's "Over My Dead Body," Drake's blend of outrageous cockiness and sublime melancholy making him an excellent Afghan Whigs spirit animal. The playlist above represents the best stuff from the only '90s band with the swagger and authority to name one of their records Black Love. Enjoy it with someone you despise.

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