For a guy who specialized in writing poisonous songs about disintegrating relationships while in the Afghan Whigs, Greg Dulli sounds positively upbeat about his reunion this year with his combative bandmates, namely Whigs bassist
"The best way I can describe it is to say I've had a lovely summer playing with my friends," he says. It's hard to tell if Dulli is smirking on the phone, but the band's recent shows suggest the Whigs are in top form after a decade-long hiatus. Through six studio albums from 1986 into the late '90s, the Afghan Whigs were a swaggering soul-rock juggernaut with a reputation for finding trouble both on and off stage. Besides constant in-fighting, the band – particularly Dulli -- would get into it with audience members and anybody else who got in its way. On one ignominious occasion, a bouncer at a Texas club left the singer with a fractured skull.
The Whigs played about 1,500 shows, Dulli estimates, and broke up countless times before finally pulling the plug in 2001.
“We drove it till the legs fell off,” the singer says. “We lived pretty hard too. We almost said no to Sub Pop (the label that initially signed the band in the ‘80s) because it was getting in the way of breaking up the band back then. We were breaking up in 1989. (Metro owner) Joe Shanahan got us back together. Him and Lori
Dulli says the mix of combustible personalities, self-taught musicianship and heavy soul influences had a lot to do with why the Whigs stood out from the wash of grunge bands that dominated the early '90s.
Dulli says an acoustic tour two years ago in which he was occasionally accompanied by Curley planted the seed for a reunion. When he was asked to reunite the Whigs for a couple of festival shows this year, he gave the go-ahead to a Whigs tour, which included blazing performances in August at
The character Dulli played in many of the Whigs songs redefined nastiness, though many of his portraits of relationship hell also seethed with black humor. Is it tough for Dulli to channel that guy now that his personal life is a bit more stable?
"I'm doing 'West Side Story,' my own way," he says with a laugh. "Hitting my marks, which is cool. If I feel uncomfortable doing something, I won't do it. But we're pulling out a lot of songs we've forgotten about and there are lighter shades in a lot of those songs that people sometimes miss. I've done a couple songs on this tour that we've never played before, especially off (the 1998 album) '1965,' in which I defy you to find the inherent darkness -- they're actually very joyful songs. I think there is a bunch of speeds in the car that is the Afghan Whigs."
Whether the band will continue is an open question. They've recorded covers of Marie "Queenie" Lyons' '70s soul song "See and Don't See" and Frank Ocean's "Love Crimes," but there are no firm plans to do more recording or shows in 2013.
"We're trying to think not too far ahead," Dulli says. "We're having a good time, trying to stay in the moment. We've been fairly successful when doing so. I'll know the moment it's time to make the decision."
But he's not interested in turning the Whigs into a nostalgia act. "If it goes on past this very reasonable point," the singer insists, "I won't be doing it unless there is something new to play."