May 13, 2022

REVIEW: In mighty return to Ybor City, The Afghan Whigs show that the live set is still their mightiest weapon

PHOTO BY DAVE DECKER
Photo by Dave Decker
On only the second night of their summer tour, The Afghan Whigs came out swinging for their gig at Ybor City’s Orpheum on Thursday night. Without the aid of an opening act, the band made its way to the stage and was greeted by a room, about three quarters full of anxious fans who have no doubt eagerly awaited the return of the powerhouse band to a local stage.

Clad in all black, the five-piece outfit, led by singer and songwriter Greg Dulli, instantly kicked things into high gear with the set-launching “I’ll Make You See God,” the leadoff single from its forthcoming September 2022 album release, How Do You Burn? The song’s chugging power chords and sonic onslaught instantly reminded longtime fans of the wall of sound The Whigs have steadily unleashed since their late-‘80s arrival. Bolstered by Dulli’s guitar work along with that of former Blind Melon guitarist Christopher Thorn and longtime collaborator Rick G. Nelson contributing to the wash of electric guitar roar, it was clear that The Afghan Whigs came armed and ready for this night.
Switching gears and styles as only Dulli and this band can, the solid 80-minute set comprised of selections from throughout the group’s long history and brilliantly showed off the band’s many sides and nuances. Suffering from some slight sound and mix issues early on (which were quickly ironed out), “Matamoros,” a track from the band’s fine 2014 album Do to the Beast benefitted from the vibrant, supple violin work of multi-instrumentalist Nelson. Dulli warmed and locked into his zone as the night progressed, too. With his vocals firmly planted at the heart of the mix and above the ear-splitting volume of the band, his interjected screams and growls throughout the set were perfectly placed.

An unabashed, diehard lover of soul and R&B music, Dulli let his vocals drift into gruff, soulful territory for the night’s take on “Oriole” from 2017’s In Spades album and perfectly illustrated the depth of his arsenal as a performer and vocalist. What’s kept The Afghan Whigs separate from their contemporaries since their emergence has always been the band’s ability to meld its many influences and a multitude of genres into its sound—and this night was a perfect representation of that.

A gritty, soulful rendition of “Heaven on Their Minds,” a song from the Andrew Lloyd Webber’s 1970 rock opera "Jesus Christ Superstar" gave way, seamlessly, to an impassioned performance of “Somethin’ Hot” from the band’s 1998 album, 1965. It’s this type of one-two punch that has attracted a long-standing sect of diehard Whigs fans to rally around this band for years; Dulli and company’s fearlessness and desire to deliver the unpredictable and sew it up in their own fashion has been an intoxicating quotient that’s kept the believers coming back.

Putting down his ax to instead sit behind the small, electric piano on the stage, Dulli treated the audience to an as-of-yet unreleased new selection from the band’s upcoming album. “We’re doing songs from the new record that comes out in September. Some you’ve heard, some you haven’t heard” the singer announced before diving into the urgent balladry of “Please, Baby, Please” which was warmly received.

Apart from some stern warnings to audience members regarding bright lights beaming from phones while photographing or filming the performance, Dulli was in high spirits and seemed to genuinely enjoy getting back into the groove of live performance.

“It’s good to be here,” he said at one point. “It’s good to be anywhere.”
PHOTO BY DAVE DECKER
Photo by Dave Decker

Of local note, while waxing about the methods and circumstances that lead songwriters to compose songs, Dulli recalled writing the song “Gentlemen” (the title track of the band’s 1993 major label debut album) after a 1992 performance that occurred just a stone’s throw away from the room where he stood on this night. Hilariously reminiscing about his amp catching on fire, which led to the end of that particular Ybor City performance, prompted Dulli to dive into the supercharged, electrified intro of “Gentlemen” which was met with fiery approval from the audience.

To end, Dulli made light of the predictable trappings of how concert encores usually play out. “The band walks off stage, he said, “…and then you say ‘Hey, we really like that, we want more, and we’re gonna go crazy to get it’” which, of course, inspired the audience to vocally express its desire for more. Included in what would have been designated as the encore portion was a blistering version of “My Enemy” from the superb 1996 tour de force Black Love album and a show-ending take of “Into the Floor,” the closing track from the band’s last studio album, 2017’s In Spades.

Following a 10-year hiatus that began in 2001, the future of The Afghan Whigs seemed unclear to many of their devoted followers. Since reuniting, the band has released a string of strong, consistent albums and, based on the tracks that surfaced from their upcoming release, it's clear that Dulli and The Whigs are on track to continue their path of soulful, crunchy rock and smart lyrics. Live performance has always been the band’s mightiest weapon and, if this show was any indication of their continued prowess, The Afghan Whigs will remain one of the most dynamic and sonically stimulating contemporary rock bands for a long time to come.
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In mighty return to Ybor City, The Afghan Whigs show that the live set is still their mightiest weapon
Photo by Dave Decker
In mighty return to Ybor City, The Afghan Whigs show that the live set is still their mightiest weapon
Photo by Dave Decker
In mighty return to Ybor City, The Afghan Whigs show that the live set is still their mightiest weapon
Photo by Dave Decker
In mighty return to Ybor City, The Afghan Whigs show that the live set is still their mightiest weapon
Photo by Dave Decker
In mighty return to Ybor City, The Afghan Whigs show that the live set is still their mightiest weapon
Photo by Dave Decker

Join the Creative Loafing Tampa Bay Press Club

At a time when local-based reporting is critical, support from our readers is essential to our future.