Water cooler talk on the music tip started off this morning about another round of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees being announced and whether Axl Rose would make nice with Slash at the April ceremony. That quickly fell by the wayside when news broke that THE AFGHAN WHIGS were set to reform next year for two confirmed dates, at both of the 2012 All Tomorrow's Parties' "I'll Be Your Mirror" events; in London, May 27, and Asbury Park, NJ, on September 22. Whigs’ frontman, the ever debonair Greg Dulli, will be curating the latter.
The shows will be the first in 13 years for the band that blasted straight outta Cincinnati in the late '80s, having the distinction of being the first act outside the Pacific Northwest signed to the indie-label Sub Pop. The majors took notice of the soul inflected punk rock that had gained the attention of critics and music fans, many who painted Dulli as a misogynist with masochistic tendencies.
Elektra distributed the landmark Gentlemen in 1993, which didn’t exactly argue those accusations with its tales of self-medication, betrayal, manipulation and revenge. The reality is Dulli was just getting his honest on with lyrics like “Ladies, let me tell you about myself/I got a dick for a brain/And my brain is gonna sell my ass to you.” It pissed a lot of people off -– bolstering the feminist argument before Sex and the City showed women could be just as whorish and prior to Neil LaBute’s In the Company of Men revealing what bastards men could be. Ahh, the '90s.
The stunning break-up record that followed, Black Love, was even more remarkably painful to listen to. Dulli wasn’t wearing his heart on his sleeve; he was clenching it in his fist like Tommie Smith circa 1968 and letting the toxic blood seep out for all to see. Enter anti-depressants, recreational drugs and boatloads of booze and you have the do-you-want-to-make-party late '90s era of 1965 and the legendary Whigs tours that followed it. The first leg had a New Orleans vibe; a horn section, back-up singers and Dulli prancing about in feather boas and massive sunglasses while the second leg stripped it back down to just four guys from Cincy that kicked ass in every city they went to.
It was a surprise then, in 2001, when the Whigs decided to call it a day, citing “distance, which for so long kept the band fresh, began to work against them.” Here was a group in its prime walking away. Dulli refocused on his Twilight Singers project, an ever expanding collective of collaborations with the likes of Ani DiFranco, Mark Lanegan and Nick McCabe.
He acknowledged the legacy of his previous outfit, but didn’t envision getting back together anytime soon. During a 2004 interview, Dulli became audibly uncomfortable with the idea of a reunion, telling me that his stomach was clenching up at the very thought of rolling back the clock.
Over the past several years though, he has welcomed Whigs guitarist Rick McCollum (Minneapolis), bassist John Curley and drummer Michael Horrigan (both Cincinnati) to the stage when Twi-Si would hit their respective cities.
Earlier this year he joked after an interview with the Phoenix about reuniting the Whigs at Lollapalooza, saying that if Perry Farrell’s wife asked him, “I’ll consider it.”
Now that it’s officially a go, the initial word is the Afghan Whigs are simply filling in the slot at All Tomorrow’s Parties left by the pulling out and breakup (which has since been denied) of Guided By Voices, a fellow Ohio act that launched its own reunion last year. But sources tell me that the reconvening of the Whigs has been in the works for a bit now and that these dates are just the first of a much bigger plan. Thankfully, it didn't take until a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction for it to happen.
From the vault: The Whigs make their network television debut on Late Night With Conan O'Brien back in 1993: