Afghan Whigs - Manchester Cathedral
“We’re in the house of the lord tonight, Manchester. Let’s show him what we’re up to!” Praise be and hallelujah. That the Afghan Whigs have regrouped, over a decade after they drifted to a halt, is no real surprise. Hey, everybody’s doing it. And the Whigs, an uncompromising act whose Cincinatti roots were always in some part responsible for their our-way-or-the-highway MO, return with dignity intact and motives unquestioned. They fill the Cathedral, Manchester turning out in numbers greater, arguably, than they ever did for them during their late 90’s peak. It’s further proof that the mid-table stalwarts of the US alt scene, now done with kids, mortgages and the tiresome self-assessment of youth, are alive again with a whole new set of inspirations. J Mascis, Bob Mould, Throwing Muses, Thurston Moore. Flag-bearers of a previous generation, almost, of indie rock, finding their original audience, now similarly done with nappies and nannies, ready for round two.
And here’s big bad Greg Dulli, back in the fray, looking ever more like some (unholy) combination of gin joint prize fighter and back roads preacher. “You feeling it?” he asks (demands) a half dozen songs in; just checking in, if you will, seeing if we’re still with him. Still with him after a punishing half hour; still with him nearly three decades on. An hour later, as the Whigs motor to a brutal climax, some have wilted, beaten down by an unceasing barrage. But most ride the onslaught, a thick, metallic wave of heat and volume. Outside, Manchester roasts; inside, Manchester liquefies. At times, you find yourself gasping for air, desperate for a moment’s respite from the unwavering attack, an aural offensive led by three guitars and Dulli’s acid bath vocals.
But Dulli doesn’t do prisoners, so it’s keep up or shut up. Even the softer moments – the Orbison referencing ‘Algiers’ from this year’s tremendous Do the Beast - are looking for a fight. Much of the set is given over to the new stuff and it aids the battery. Looking for the old stuff? It’s here, pretty much untouched, as sick and sleazy as it ever was. ‘Gentleman’. ‘What Jail is Like’. A shuddering ‘My Enemy’. Dulli, still an oddly beguiling sourpuss, delivers them like he’s trying to cast them off – or out. He still details those post-breakup blues with an eye as jaundiced as it is true. In Dulli’s world, there are a multitude of wrongs to document and not one of them will ever be straightened out. “Don’t say that you want me,” he growls as ‘I Am Fire’ gives way to a fevered take on Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Tusk’, that late 70’s exemplar of love in a trashcan. Alright, fella. Have it your way.