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The Afghan Whigs At The Henry Fonda Theater, Saturday October 25th 2014

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The Afghan Whigs

This Afghan Whigs’ concert at the Henry Fonda Theater turned into some epic night, the main reason being that it lasted for more than 4 hours! I arrived a bit before 8 pm and got out of the place at 1:30 am…. Why do organizers think people will still be awake after such a long evening? There was no way I could have fallen asleep with that level of decibels, but I was exhausted! On the floor, people were dancing till the end, and because I had received an admission for the mezzanine area, I was lucky to have a seat just above the VIP area, but at the same time, I felt a bit too far from the main action and may be a bit too comfortable in my seat.

If you want my opinion, they should limit a night to one opening act, even though I don’t deny the talent of a band like the Lou Man Group… a sort of a cross between a joke on a Vegas act (do I need to explain?) and an indie band overdosing on the Velvet, to the point they could reproduce their songs to the perfection, or close to, with tambourine and cowbell. They weren’t announced on the ticket, so I was wondering what this blue guys were about, when they started playing ‘I’m Waiting for the Man’ and continued with many more tunes, including ‘I Can’t Stand it’, ‘Vicious’, Sweet Jane’, ‘Walk on the Wild Side’, with a nice sax solo of course! They had their faces all covered with blue paint and several of them sang during the set, with Donita Sparks of grunge band L7 fame aggressively throwing confetti (with the guns) to the crowd at the end.

The next act, Joseph Arthur, was announced as the official opener and he is an artist I have always missed for some unknown reasons, despite the fact he has been around since the late 90s. Joseph is a solo act, as he let us noticed, a one-man band using loop techniques and an impressive number of distortion pedals: he was constantly recording samples of his guitar, man-made percussion that he would loop throughout his songs, harmonizing with his own vocals, adding volume and texture to his songs despite being alone. A few other artists do that, Jon Brion being the first one I ever saw doing it. But more than his technique and multiple talents (I’ll explain in a minute), what you will notice in Joseph Arthur’s songs is the impressive number of biblical and religious references, starting with ‘I Used to Know How to Walk on Water’,… this Jesus-figure haunted all his songs, but a peculiar Jesus, with a sort of a free punk-spirit, a wide sense of humor, and a hungry taste for noise and distortion. Stepping on a cube and giving rhythm to his songs by tapping his right foot, he gave an unique performance filled with deep emotional vocals, occasional technical difficulties, but also some cathartic-ascending songs and interesting guitar solos. He is a Christ-obsessed, christian songwriter, and this can turn to the almost-ridiculous with the title-track of his album ‘The Ballad of Boogie Christ’ with lyrics like ‘Christ would be handsome/Christ would be gross/Christ would buy butter/And make you some toast/Christ would be savage/But Christ would be true/He’d say if you want him/Then look inside you’… and it goes on like this for a long time, and he almost lost me there. However, he is also a guy who takes risks as he experiments right on stage with a very versatile voice and in-situ-recorded loops, building tension with his sole guitar and eager to show you how creative he can be: he even painted a face on stage when he was singing ‘I Miss the Zoo’, a song filled with cryptic poesy and drug references, perfectly fitting after ‘Heroin’, yes, another Lou Reed’s cover, full of white noise and anger… ‘It’ll be on sale at the merchandize booth after the show’ he said jokingly while talking about the piece he had just created. He did one song I already knew ‘Honey and the Moon’ (but I failed to recognize it when he played it!), a Sioux-style frenetic dance, gave us some abrupt stops and he almost rapped during ‘Travel as Equals’… He was a singular guy, a ‘solo performer’ as he said before announcing the Afghan Whigs as ‘the greatest rock ‘n’ roll band of all time’.

It was past 11 pm when the Afghan Whigs made a dramatic entrance with a melancholic gypsy violin, and a stage plunged in a profound darkness which stayed very dark during the show. Blinding blue or red lights were in full action during the whole time so that, from my mezzanine seat, I was not able to see anyone’s face or even the details of what was going on…I was a bit sad about it, since last time I saw them I was standing at Greg Dulli’s feet, but there was something fully alive in the middle of this darkness and that was Dulli’s raucous howl, dominating the show from start to finish… he is surely a force of nature, with vocals raspier then ever, going from falsettos to classic soul howls to dangerous growls and I was relaying on the various intensities of his scream to follow the action…. For two hours, they rocked very hard, actually they were on fire and they certainly didn’t make Arthur’s earlier announcement sound like a cliché. It was some hard, explosive, and aggressive show with a mix of old songs and new songs from their 2014 release ‘Do to the Beast’, marking their return in great force. The only thing that made me happy to be seating far away from the stage, was the tinnitus threat menacing the eardrums of these front-row people,… The Whigs proved they were some well-oiled mechanics, which delivered with the same energy song after song.

There wasn’t lot of talking or messing around between songs, not a dull moment with Dully, they gave a very muscular, almost lethal show, building a wall of sound in front of a very packed theater, but Dulli nevertheless couldn’t resist to show his bad boy side at one point: ‘I saw some bitches texting during the show, it’s like me watching TV while you’re blowing me!’ he said, already sure of the effect on the crowd. Even in the dark, Dulli hadn’t lost any part of his charismatic personality, not only he is one of the finest screamers of his generation, but he knows how to inject humor and dirty jokes in his philosophical fusion of space-tearing brand of garage-rock, classic R&B, dance beats and soul.

It’s actually difficult to define their all-over-the-place musical palette, however, live, the songs resonated with the same vitality, and even the covers – that I hardly recognized except that Police’s song during the encore – sounded entirely theirs. There were some quieter moments when Dulli moved behind the keyboard, but even there he was commanding the stage, in full force. At times, he was raging and beating a snare drum brought front stage, he even jumped in the crowd during a song, and Joseph Arthur came back on stage for a song,… it may have been during this Fleetwood Mac cover, but I was never sure of what was going on, as the covers were totally intertwined inside the Whigs’ own tunes, and Dulli may even have occasionally added other lyrics from famous songs here and there, showing what human jukebox he can be.

I bet there were several big finals to this thing, but every time they were playing another song. Unsurprisingly, the crowd was full of middle-age guys, but I didn’t detect any nostalgia, they were there for a raw and raging hard-rocking show dominated by Dulli’s furious howl, despite the late hour. I was just regretting not being able to see Greg’s facial expressions with the dark atmosphere and these violent lights blinding me all the time… But, from my roost, he appeared even closer to the blood-roaring rock-god he has become.

Setlist

Parked Outside
Matamoros
Fountain and Fairfax
The Lottery
Step Into the Light
Now You Know
Algiers
Royal Cream
I Am Fire/Tusk (Fleetwood Mac cover)
Gentlemen
Turn On the Water
It Kills
Can Rova
John the Baptist
My Enemy
Son of the South
Lost in the Woods

Encore
Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic (the Police cover)
Heaven on Their Minds / Somethin’ Hot
Going to Town
Across 110th street (Bobby Womack) / Faded



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