The band lost nothing that mattered in the intervening years.
For me, reuinion gigs often fail to satisfy, not because the band can't play anymore but because they're too excited that they can. There's a low, giddy buzz onstage as the band realizes, "We can still do this!" that takes the edge off. Rock 'n' roll's not about smiles. That wasn't a problem for The Afghan Whigs at Tipitina's. Friday night, they went to work with characteristic intensity as if they hadn't stopped. It wasn't as dramatic as some Whigs shows in the past, but like their Tipitina's show near the end of the Gentlemen, they demonstrated what a good, hard rock 'n' roll band they can be.
In a recent interview with Keith Spera, singer Greg Dulli said, "We’re better players. We were crazy people back then. Not to put down what we did – we had a ramshackle, wild quality that I fully embrace and appreciate – but we can straight deal it now.” The three-guitar attack chopped out Who-like chords for Black Love's "Bulletproof," and "Going to Town" was explosive. For the tour, the band added a third guitarist, a keyboard playerswho also played strings, and backing vocalists Steve Myers and Susan Marshall, the woman who sang backing vocals on 1965, which the Whigs recorded at Kingsway Studios in the Quarter. She added Kathi McDonald-like wails (check your Exile on Main Street liner notes) to "John the Baptist" and returned in the encore for "Neglekted," which began with a roadie sparking a joint and handing it up to Dulli.
If anything, the show could have used more moments like that. I'm sure the "ramshackle" place the band once lived was hard on livers and psyches, but it also gave the shows remarkable drama. The night of the Thanksgiving show at the Howlin' Wolf, Dulli's onstage persona was a man who'd fuck anything, take anything, drink anything, and wake up ecstatic or walk into traffic. Songs about paranoia and abandon didn't just feel like pages from his diary; they were phone calls he had five minutes ago.
It's unfair to ask a band to stay in that place, and those in the crowd who never saw shows like that didn't feel emotionally gypped last night. Starting with the buzzing single string, single note intro to "Crime Scene, Part One," tension bordering on claustrophobia defined the songs, setting the stage for Dulli's explosive moments, which were as powerful as ever. His ability to still get to that place with his voice after years of howlingin in pain onstage is impressive and dramatic.
If we're only going to get one more Afghan Whigs show - for now, anyway - the show was probably all we could ask for, if not more. After all, who'd want to hear them happy?