You can guarantee that when The Afghan Whigs arrive in the Capital of England to regale us with tales of love, loss and debauchery, coupled with a bastardised amalgam of grunge and R’n’ B, then the destination for their confessional cabaret will undoubtedly be Koko set in the heart of Camden Town. Previous visits to the former Grade 2 listed Camden palace have included 2012 on one of their many comeback jaunts as well as touring in support of 2014’s Do to the Beast album. The latest performance took place on Tuesday, May 30th, promoting their current album In Spades (QRO review).
Over the course of three decades and numerous albums Greg Dulli’s lyrical genus (or genius) has always inhabited a world of cheap women, tainted relationships and all manner of addictions and afflictions with almost no other motif’s being addressed. The latest offering is no exception to this approach, but as Dulli enters his sixth decade then the brutal selfishness of his past outpourings seems to have been almost desensitized to a frictionless flow, with confrontation and angst being glaringly absent. Musically the new album sits in the usual dark corner where Bobby Womack meets Kurt Cobain, but the often trite lyrics for example on the track “Arabian nights”, where the line “Love is a lie, like a hole in the sky and then you die” are all too typical of the lack of the Bukowski–esque approach that resonated in his 1993 masterwork that was the album Gentlemen.
Dulli’s tenure as the centroid at which the firmament known as The Afghan Whigs revolves is one where his confidence in their artistic virtuosity is unswerving. The live performance at Koko demonstrated this with 15 out of the 24 songs performed being sequestrated from the last two albums, a statement that read loud and clear that this wasn’t no revivalist tour and any fans expecting the dirty squalor of Gentlemen or the ethereal doom of Black Love in abundance were more than a little disappointed. Dulli was in masterful form throughout, looking leaner and more menacing as he discarded his guitar and attacked a singular snare drum with ferocity in an almost shamanic ritual leading his flock to their spiritual Nirvana. The two tracks from Gentlemen, namely the title track and “Debonair”, raised the already towering ceiling to almost another level, but the highlight of the pre-encore set was the closing number, a bruising “Lost in the Woods” from the Do to the Beast album with its aching “Baby, sitting outside in the cold” refrain as lovelorn as you could possibly get, but not withstanding that, it was incredibly segued into “Penny Lane” by the Beatles, leaving the crowd in awe as the band departed. The four-track encore was rounded off with two pieces from Black Love, “Summers Kiss” and the set finishing favourite that is “Faded”, but unfortunately not with the usual melding into “110th Street” by Bobby Womack.
Dulli’s lyrical approach in the current album may be less corrosive than his previous work, but the energy released in the live arena is powerful enough to melt even the most blackened and tarnished of hearts, and it goes without saying that Koko and its loyal devotee’s eagerly await the next visit.