Saturday, April 12, 2014

Dream Your Sins Away: Afghan Whigs live

10 APRIL, 2014

The Afghan Whigs returned to live action, wedging in a warmup show at Pappy and Harriet's in Pioneertown, before they got down to business at Coachella. The occasion is Do To The Beast, their first album of new material since 1965 came out 16 years ago, also marking a reunion with Sub Pop, the label that served as their launchpad. Founding members Greg Dulli and John Curley remain, joined by Cully Symington, Rick Nelson, Dave Rosser, Jon Skibic, and Mark McGuire, and the signature sound of the band is intact. What started with All Tomorrow's Parties in 2012 grew into European Festival appearances and a hand full of stateside dates, including a two-night stand at the Fonda Theater in Hollywood.
The setup was outdoors in the desert night, and Dulli's guitar strap, fashioned from a vintage car seatbelt, was a portent of things to come. Kicking off with the first two songs from Do To The Beast, "Parked Outside" proved the perfect opener, setting the tone as surely as it does for the album, and "Matamoros", was shorn of its studio beats, but still slinky. The energy level far outweighed the wobbly sound, which surely sent the night creatures scambling for safe underbrush. Having dove straight in with new material, they paid back the audience, (most of whom traveled over from LA), with "Fountain and Fairfax", (from Gentlemen), and when Dulli hit the climactic title refrain, he could have easily cut his mic and it would have gone unnoticed, such was the audience's fervor. Keeping it in old school mode, Black Love's "Going To Town" and "Blame, Etc" kept things tense, and set the stage for "Conjure Me", (Congregation). Emblematic of the night was Dulli's reading of the "Going To Town" verse: "Don't worry baby, that's okay/I know the boss", providing an electrifying moment when he took the last line in a high register. Cully Symington, (Okkervil River/Shearwater drummer), got the shout out to kick start the martial beats of "Algiers", which, if you've seen the "High Plains Drifter" referencing video, sounded perfectly at home here. "The Lottery" continued a run of what would be seven of the ten songs from the new album. "Royal Cream" received an extended jam, and,  as it turns out, was one of the songs tracked right down the road, as Dulli observes in the liner notes: Shot On Location. The title track of Gentlemen provided another bat-shit crazy moment for the oldsters, then Dulli reached into his trick bag, and brought out LA soul man Van Hunt to do the honors on "It Kills". Crowd pleaser "66" set the stage for the last, and maybe best, of the new songs, "Lost In The Woods", with it's haunting refrain of "Fear has a mind of its own". Not content to let it go at that, Dulli trumped matters by ending the set proper with a segue into The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper chestnut "Getting Better", which seemed entirely appropriate to an Afghan Whigs catalog of examining one's frailties. The encore was all about desert, and Dulli saluted "Heaven On Their Minds", from Jesus Christ Superstar, as a song he's always wanted to play in the he did, then without pause the band ripped into "Something Hot", following it with "My Enemy", and when it seemed the intensity could not be raised any more, finished with the incandescent prayer meeting that is "Faded", leaving not too many dry eyes among the faithful. A stunning finish to the night from a band reinvigorated.
With special guest Van Hunt (left)

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