In a year when we've already suffered through a torrential downpour of reunion cash-ins, the most impressive has been overlooked by many. Those of you guessing Cud will be mistaken... Stood front left at the barrier of a European festival, drenched in anticipation. Someone asks me... "So when did you first hear these guys?" I struggle to put it together.
Late night, early 90s and a secret Sunday ritual is enacted - MTV's 120 Minutes show plays through it's grimy collection of underground artists' abstract, faux-arty videos while I sit inches from the TV, sound low to avoid parental disturbance.
Among the treasures plucked from this regular semi-séance was one of my most long-lasting musical love affairs - with Greg Dulli and his band of black-suited boys The Afghan Whigs. I saw the video for masochistic hymn Turn On The Water and I was gone...
They blazed a soul train trail through the guitar world of grunge between 86 and 2001. Starting with a riff-roaring rampage of Replacements rock in the shape of 1988's Big Top Halloween and finally landing on their epic, noir-drenched kiss-off 1965, released in 1998, they consistently brought style, slink and filthy, filthy sex to a rock scene alternately obsessed with self-aggrandisement and crippling self pity.
They dropped covers like Barry White's Can't Get Enough Of Your Love, Prince's Purple Rain and TLC's Creep; they blew smoke rings through anthemic breakout tracks like Gentlemen and Debonair, they slunk through the heroin-soaked noir tales of Summer's Kiss and Faded, but most of all they played shows that would steal your breath and not offer it back for their duration.
While you were under Dulli's influence that band seemed capable of anything. At a spectacularly drunk, extremely extended show at London's Astoria in 1999 where the singer emerged slurping down scotch, noting "We need to talk about your drink problem, Mr Hat" before performing note perfect renditions of their own and anyone else's songs they could think. Some of the crowd melted away as Dulli kicked off a jazzy improv which was the wrong side of 15 minutes, but for the true believers this was the magic - the crossing point between excellence and desperation that Mr Dulli's songs were about, acted out for real right in front of you.
Dark, funny, smart love like this couldn't last. It didn't and two years later the band was no more.
This year, long after Dulli saying he would "never play with that band again" they were back. Stepping in for Guided By Voices after they dropped out of ATP's I'll Be Your Mirror event in London, Dulli, Rick McCollum (guitar) and ,b>John Curley (bass) took to the black once more.
There would be no new material - that was until a stunning rendition of Marie Lyons' See And Don't See turned up. There would only be a handful of shows - until suddenly they were booked for 25+ gigs across the world, not counting the ones they've already played.
Of course, they wouldn't be as good as they were. That was the thing. That's what you could count on.... How could they?
Yet here we are watching The Afghan Whigs onstage, playing a set of vitality, veracity and verve which triumphs over even their most frenetic shows back in the day. They play better than ever, while Dulli's voice soars. They're now playing to bigger, more appreciative crowds than they ever did in their heyday. They're genuinely a better band too. Now that's a reunion worth celebrating this year.
Michael James Hall
For more, including the band's own account of their history, head to Theafghanwhigs.com.
11:03 AM | 19/07/2012
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