London Ladbroke Grove Subterania
Victoria Segal spends a night of unbridled passion with Greg Dulli and friends...
This is not Van Halen - backstage passes for every attractive girl...on just one condition - but former grunge associates The Afghan Whigs, and Signor Greg Dulli is proving himself to be the slut everyone always suspected. "My pussy is soaking wet," he announces proudly. Oh, Greg, you gentleman...
Their first London show in over two years, it's promiscuous in every way - over two hours and 17 songs long, flitting about with cover versions, revelling in Dulli's indiscriminate crowd-flirting. Never mind they're frequently men in fetching plaid'n'hair ensembles, the black-eyed, black-hearted singer wants them. All. It's not just their affections the Whigs are selling cheap, though - it's partly their strength, too. Compared with the soul lacerations of the past, the self-flagellation and bloody-minded defiance, there's a feeling tonight doesn't unleash their heart-savaging capabilities. It's like watching a slightly arthritic lion stretching out, rediscovering his taste for blood after three years on easy zoo rations.
They start, prey firmly in sight, with the new 'Somethin' Hot' - all it takes is that strangely effeminate Elvis point and shimmy, that rasp of, brr, pure suggestion and an opening line that goes, "I've got your phone number, baby" and Julie Andrews would have Dulli back for coffee without flinching. The snake-tongued guitar flicker of 'Debonair' twitches close behind, but they decide to strip down the momentum before it's really had a chance to build up. Much as Dulli is right to be proud of his soul affiliations, giving gelignite-voiced backing singer Susan Marshall a whole song of her own - a cover of Nina Simone's 'Little Girl Blue', wonderful when it isn't stretched on a rack of unnecessary octaves - is too much pride. The cover of 'Another Brick In The Wall', seductive as a cement mixer full of mince, is no help either.
Sure, the incidental showmanship is a joy, Dulli cheerily insulting Europeans, launching into a silky, fever-rising version of 'No Diggity', or impersonating Queen Latifah with unnerving accuracy. He divides the audience into West and East Coast, sneering, "Where's your West Coast? Wales?" He drops to the floor with flamboyant James Brown flair, then plaintively yelps, "I hurt my knees." Yet you don't add Ribena to vodka, and all this merriment dilutes the power of the - increasingly occasional - songs. Once you've heard the coruscating litany of 'Blame Etc', it's hard to return to a sniggering snippet of 'Wonderwall'. It's a long time between shots, but when they arrive, they're instantly intoxicating: 'What Jail Is Like', a bin bag of suspect emotions and ideology transformed into something beautiful; the drunk wavering of 'Omerta'; the lovers' nursery rhyme of '66'. After all the games, all the lies, he's still our type.
It's all slightly regrettable, frustratingly unrequited - but, hey, fun while it lasted. They might have been easy tonight, but Lord knows, we'll still respect them in the morning.
To read all our reviews first - days before they appear online - check out NME magazine, on sale every Wednesday