Does Baby wanna know what a cascade of bombast feels like? One man up there thinks she does. Eleven years since they elbowed their way out of Cincinnati, the Whigs are back in town once more, and Greg Dulli, the poet brawler wannabe soul dude driving their big black rock’n’roll steam train, is in the mood for ramming his point home hard.
The heaving tiers of the faithful Whigs fans roll back on their heels in joy as favourite openers ‘Debonair’ and ‘Going To Town’ pummel forth topped off by Dulli singing like he’s had a Noddy Holder transplant. He screams out the hooks so searingly that his voice crawls on scabbed knees over the quiet bits, and when he finally turns his legendary bar-room charm on the front row it’s not to narrate a shadowy tale spun off from one of his gory romantic lust songs, it’s to holler: “The guitars aren’t too loud for you motherf–ers, are they?”
Uh, no Greg. But they are motherfuggin’ loud. It’s not unimpressive – the Whigs‘ Catholic guilt fretboard grandstanding. They’ve had one of the most erratic careers in rock, mistiming their arrival on Sub Pop so they were outsiders when the grunge wave broke and spending all these years in the cult hero zone. But tonight they play like, well, like very lived-in 30-something men of no fixed genre, proving themselves crushingly.
Dulli‘s affection for soul music is not much in evidence tonight. No horn section or sexy mama duets. On ‘Citi Soleil’ they let in a little more light, one of the few moments where the riffing lifts and their Stones-y boogie-woogie side comes out. Beyond that, however, it’s overcharged, gut-spilling, peak piled on peak, blue-collar rock anthems all the way to the beer tent.
They’re good anthems, ‘Crazy’ and ‘Faded’ and the encored ‘What Jail Is Like’. They’re like Springsteen plays Prince plays Pumpkins down the pub. But 18 rounds of their rock’n’brawl is no pillow fight. As Dulli stomps around the stage, cigarette clenched priapically, it’s hard not to feel a little sorry for the protagonists in his stormy testosterone-toned confessionals, particularly the female muse referred to over and over as ‘Baby’.
He’s crazy about you, Baby. He’s got your phone number, Baby. He’s been crying, Baby. But ain’t it funny, Baby, how, faced by a tidal wave of triumphal American Buffalo rock poetry, you don’t get a word in edgeways.
The Whigs rocked mightily. But if you want them rockin’ subtly stay home with the albums.