The Afghan Whigs are yet another band from Seattle's seminal Sub Pop label to be signed by a corporate record company (see Nirvana and Soundgarden). The quintet from Cincinnati plays a less aggressive sound than their flannel-clad and feedback-laden former labelmates--inspirational but dark rock with a rough, psychedelic edge. The Whigs are now enjoying a major buzz, and on Wednesday a tightly packed but subdued audience at the Whisky watched quietly as the band alternated brilliant and mundane moments.
Singer Greg Dulli belted deep, sometimes hoarse vocals over smooth then jerky pop undertones. His ability to lay himself open emotionally in controlled bouts of intensity gave the music an overwhelming sense of passion and honesty. Wavering keyboards added an arty edge, while military-style drum rolls and a penchant for splicing in bits of other artists' lyrics--Pink Floyd, Prince, the Doors--during long jams were reminiscent of U2.
But forced and quirky beats threw potentially good melodies out of whack, and an overload of distorted wah-wah guitar often muffled the grooves into a droning buzz (imagine a washing machine on rinse cycle). The Whigs' slower numbers were best, simply because the group was more relaxed and felt less compelled to entertain.
The Afghan Whigs also appear tonight at the Alligator Lounge.