Onstage, the Afghan Whigs doesn’t stray far from the tightly knit, sharply delivered approach found on its records.
What makes the Cincinnati four-piece a strong live attraction, though, is the boiling intensity found between the lines, where singer Greg Dulli often hides extreme pain, loneliness and frustration.
One of the most anticipated debuts from the major label Class of ’93 was the band’s “Gentlemen,” its first for Elektra following two fine sets for Sub Pop.
The band’s cozy blend of soulful, almost-grunge-meets-middle-America roots rock has started showing up on playlists of a growing number of commercial radio and video outlets, including MTV, which is giving clip “Debonair,” a song about physical abuse and domestic violence, regular airings.
In “What Jail Is Like,” one of the 75-minute show’s more striking songs, singer Dulli uses imprisonment as an appropriate metaphor for the feeling of entrapment in an unhealthy relationship: “I’ll warn you, if cornered, I’ll scratch my way out of the pen.”
Dulli’s demeanor remains calm, even while he delivers words of desperation.
Elsewhere, “I’m Her Slave,” with its contrasting funk rhythms and punk drive, the catchy “Debonair” and the painful rage of “Fountain and Fairfax” were show’s highlights. Older material, such as “Retarded” and “You, My Flower,” also scored well with the over-capacity crowd.
Like Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder, Dulli uses disarming lyrics anda disturbing sense of emotional control to dominate the attention of his audience. As the band develops its own sound, a feat nearly accomplished on “Gentlemen,” expect the Whigs to move out of the club circuit and into a much bigger spotlight.