The Afghan Whigs performing at Tipitina's in New Orleans; photo by Michael Christopher
It’s been one month since the inaugural edition of “Stalking Greg Dulli,” and holy shit have things gotten out of line in this misguided craze over THE AFGHAN WHIGS reunion tour.
The September 26 House of Blues show seemed to go off without a hitch. It was standard fare, for this jaunt at least, bookending the set with “Crime Scene, Part One” and “Faded,” the noir openers and closers of the band’s 1996 effort, Black Love. Aside from an ex appearing out of nowhere and surprising me with an impromptu make-out session during “When We Two Parted,” things were pretty normal. Backstage, however, was a different story.
Dulli and bassist John Curley split the premises right away, while guitarists Dave Rosser and Rick McCollum were amiable enough, offering glasses of not-so-bad red wine. But it was drummer Cully Symington who threatened to throw this whole shebang into the shitter. Chilling on the HOB couch, the Okkervil River skin slammer had a bummed out look on his face with one of those old school ice bags your grandmother probably still uses resting on his wrist. What the fuck! Immediate paranoia was barely calmed when Symington assured me it was just sore, no shocker there as Whigs fans have been noting how freaking hard the dude bashes the kit; without question the toughest of the Spinal Tap litany that have occupied the group’s stool over the years. Not entirely convinced Symington would even last until the following week when I was to hit New York City for the Whigs’ two-night stand; I headed home for a succession of sleepless evenings.
Fears were proven unfounded October 5 at the long sold out Terminal 5 show with the explosion out of the gate courtesy of Gentlemen’s funky, bass-driven ode to a relationship cheating, “Debonair.” Steve Myers, who fronts Brooklyn based rump shakers Mighty Fine, reprised his role as back-up singer on the Whigs’ last studio effort, 1998’s 1965. Workers at the joint were clad in black t-shirts with the Afghan Whigs logo printed on the front and “STAFF” on the back. Waiting for aftershow entrance, I approached a short Hispanic guy sweeping up the hundreds of plastic cups on the floor and offered him $20 for his shirt. Warily eyeing me, he asked if I was serious in broken English, I assured him I was and we made the exchange. He continued sweeping in a white wife-beater while I tucked the sweaty keepsake in my waistband.
Spirits were high backstage, which may have had something to do with the potent smoke filling the area, and Symington happily flexed his wrist to let me know it was ok. My little brother made the trek up from Philly and was thrilled to meet Dulli, who was both gregarious yet hesitant at the fact that I had a just as obsessed sibling. Promises were made by various bandmembers that the following night, a last minute gig at the incredibly intimate Music Hall of Williamsburg in Brooklyn, would hold quite a few surprises. Never one to disappoint, the Whigs delivered a set filled with unexpected nuggets, including Freda Payne’s “Band of Gold” and The Supremes’ “Come See About Me,” both of which appeared on the Sub Pop covers EP Uptown Avondale way back in the day.
Myers was again in the house, but noticeably bristled when I asked if he would be making the next stop on my restraining order express, New Orleans. See, like many others associated with the Whigs, Myers lived in New Orleans. Having served the band well on the first leg of the aforementioned 1965 tour, tragedy struck when the singer was gunned down in the Garden District of the city, shot six times in a random drive-by in June of 1999, including at the base of his spine. Lucky to be alive and still mobile, Myers split to Brooklyn and hasn’t looked back. Imagine my surprise then when, the day of the New Orleans concert, Myers posted a fresh pic on Facebook with his arm around fellow 1965 backup alum Susan Marshall under the caption “It's going to be a party at Tipitina's tonight.”
Guitarist Dave Rosser is a Nawlins’ native and greeted me with a bro hug outside the venue before taking the stage, imploring me to visit Drago’s, the local hotspot for charbroiled oysters (good call BTW). Dulli splits his time between Los Angeles and NOLA as it is, so the (again) sold out show at Tipitina’s was a homecoming of sorts. 1965 was recorded in the Crescent City, and with so many of the players in the room it was no surprise that much of the set was pulled from it, including the rarely heard “John the Baptist” and sexy slow-burner “Neglekted.”
Post-show, after McCollum handed me the local craft brew Abita Amber, I was ready to reveal my latest disturbing neurosis: an Afghan Whigs tattoo. Unlike the Stones tongue, the Joy Division pulsar or Zeppelin swan song, the Whigs never had a symbol other than a script insignia. That changed as the reunion marked the advent of a skull logo, wearing sunglasses with a rose clenched in its teeth. Having gotten the ink done on the side of my left calf at Fat Ram’s Pumpkin Tattooin Jamaica Plain just days earlier, I was like a four-year-old brimming with excitement, eager to show off my art, first to Symington, who had the logo etched onto his bass drum. Unfortunately, the ice bag was back on his fucking wrist along with the bummed out look on his face. The tat brought about enough astonishment from him that it isn’t beyond the realm of possibility to boast the dedication cheered him up. Dulli, on the other hand, appeared less enthused.
“Wowww...” he said while backing away slowly. “Pretty cool man.” He beat a hasty retreat after that, likely instructing security to keep me 100 yards away. What? It’s not like I got his face tattooed on my chest or something. Then again, the hometown New Year’s Eve show in Cincinnati is next on my docket, which is more than enough time to hit up Fat Ram’s again...