The Afghan Whigs, Ed Harcourt – Rescue Rooms – Nottingham – 15 August 2017
Billy no mates at the Rescue Rooms. My friends can’t make it and I have two spares, but no one comes to gigs like this on spec anymore.
The Afghan Whigs are a band back from a 16 year hiatus for a second phase, with two great albums in recent years back on top form. I’ve seen them three times before. Once circa 1999, when I’d play their then new album “1965” whenever I got a turn on the decks in the record shop where I then worked.
I saw them again at the Electric Ballroom in 2014, I happened to be passing through London and managed to buy a spare on the door.
This year, in May, I went to Manchester hoping to see them play The Cathedral. In the wake of the Arena bombing the show was moved to the Ritz, becoming all the more powerful for harnessing the defiant mood of the city less than a week after the atrocity.
Their albums “Do To The Beast” and this year’s “In Spades” have taken up residence in my headphones (when other records get dumped from the over-burdened memory.) They’ve become go-to listening for late night journeys. The Whigs world is a dark one, but full of soul.
Outside the venue too early to go in, three blokes loiter by the door, this band’s version of a queue. Hair that might once have been a quiff, band t-shirts carefully chosen. We are the walking wreckage of our former selves. And only when it’s nearly too late do we realise we were actually alright all along.
I chat with a couple who share my table. The geezer talks over his wife to demonstrate his knowledge of obscure tracks (even though, I discover, he’s not actually got around to seeing the band before). I ration my beer, hide in my notebook, I’m early for doors. I’m trying to raise some takers for my spare tickets, but the demographic is such that using social media is a fool’s errand. You don’t see many young people (unless they’ve been dragged along by their parents) at these shows. But we’re all Zineagers.
Say what you like about the over 35s, they’re efficient with their time. I’m either spectacularly early or so late I arrive only just in time for the very first note. Less concerned about cool too, not to say there aren’t a few very cool looking folks here, suited and booted.
These days I’m getting jaded, skint. Picky. I have time to get another beer, deposit the spares on the door with the instructions to give them away to the last to show up (employing what I like to think of as Ticket Karma) and I still walk straight to the barrier!
Ed Harcourt is touring as opener and also playing as an honorary Whig. He constructs a loop and plays “Occupational Hazard” from 2016’s “Furnaces”, he picks out notes on a Beastatone guitar, layered and stark. He’s become a good fit for the headliners, tattoo’d and cowboy booted. Black-clad and ready to explore the dark side. He announces that he turned 40 yesterday and warns that he’s facing “the fear” after 48 hours of drowning it out. But he rises above it, crooning “Until Tomorrow Then” to a “blue birds on my shoulder” glissando finale.
Greg Dulli, Whig in chief, sets the ball rolling. Picking his way onto the crowded stage to replicate “In Spades” opener “Birdland” (complete with audible sniff) before the rest of the band join him for a breathless trilogy – “Arabian Heights”, “Matamoros”, and the ever sexy “Somethin’ Hot” (which for lesser bands would be peaking early). They’re funky in a low down fashion, no nonsense without clichés that aren’t their own, blending the older material with the new like they never went away. They lead a rendition of “Happy Birthday” for Harcourt, and play their ominous and faultless cover of Pleasure Club’s “You Want Love”.
“You want to go back?” asks Dulli, “I’m willing to go back half my life for you.” And they play “Honky’s Ladder” from 1996’s “Black Love”.
Dulli stops and summons a couple of women from the crowd to the front. “You and you…” he reaches over and hands them what at first look like dubious packages, but as they pass over my shoulder I realise that they are freshly wrapped earplugs from a stash in his pocket. Volume dealt with they plough on.
Between legs of this tour, long-time guitarist and fellow member of Dulli’s other band The Twilight Singers, Dave Rosser, passed away after suffering from cancer. “Can Rova”, a song about leaving, becomes a tribute. “You don’t see me any more.” Rosser will always be with them (and still gets to take his applause at the end of the show).
Dulli takes to the piano for three more songs, including their take on the Bonnie and Clyde story (somewhere between Serge Gainsbourg and Beyonce & Jay Z’s version) “Going To Town (Slight Return)”. They go way back to their debut LP for “Son Of The South”, sprawling and epic and storm the place with “Into The Floor”.
Telling off someone in the balcony for filming, this is a strictly no flash photography gig, Dulli says, “Pay attention, this might be the last time you ever see us.” I hope not, I hope they’re here to stay.
Use your time wisely, for one day you will be too old for this, but not yet. Not quite yet.
Back for more, making us work for it, the encore treats the loyal with “Summer’s Kiss” and “Faded”. I hope someone used my spares.