Afghan Whigs/The Bowery Ballroom/September 15, 2017
Born and raised in Hamilton, Ohio, Greg Dulli played in a local band called the Black Republicans in the 1980s, which bassist John Curley, a transplant from Washington, DC, later would join. In 1986, rising up as a garage rock band around the grunge movement, Dulli and Curley soon fused alternative rock and rhythm and blues and became the Afghan Whigs, based in nearby Cincinnati. The first song The Afghan Whigs ever rehearsed was a cover of the Temptations‘ “Psychedelic Shack.” Dulli later said he intended the Afghan Whigs to be, “a cross between the Band, the Temptations, and Neil Young playing with Crazy Horse.” The Afghan Whigs gained attention on MTV and college radio, but split after 15 years in 2001. The band reformed briefly in 2006, and then definitively in 2011. The Afghan Whigs’ eighth and most recent album, In Spades, was released on May 5, 2017. The band presently consists of vocalist/guitarist/keyboardist Dulli, bassist Curley, guitarist Jon Skibic, multi-instrumentalist Rick G. Nelson, and drummer Patrick Keeler.
The Afghan Whigs returned to the Bowery Ballroom tonight to perform two sets. The first set was comprised of the new album in its entirety and a second set included many of the band’s best known songs plus a few covers. Bathed in dim blue lights for most of the show, the visuals were obscured, and for most of the set the audience could not clearly see Dulli’s face, but his strong voice was turned up loud and boomed throughout the venue. Reeking with passion and angst, Dulli gave each song a rich treatment of sincerity and integrity, as the band ably backed his tone and delivery. For the second set, the Afghan Whigs gave the audience the retrospective it wanted plus four covers, Prince‘s “I Wanna Be Your Lover,” Sinead O’Connor‘s “Mandinka,” the Beatles‘ “Dear Prudence” and, from Dulli’s side project, the Twilight Singers‘ “Teenage Wristband.” Har Mar Superstar joined the band for “Demon in Profile.” Dulli chatted between songs, acknowledging in particular several musicians who recently had passed on, including Afghan Whigs guitarist Dave Rosser, who died of colon cancer on Jun. 28, 2017; Dulli dedicated “I Got Lost” to him, as a dozen or more audience members along the edge of the stage held posters that read “Viva la Rosser” and “Dave’s light shines on.” The special concert became a touching event for Afghan Whigs fans.
Front 242/Irving Plaza/September 19, 2017
Daniel Bressanutti and Dirk Bergen formed Front 242 in 1981 in Aarschot, Belgium, creating music and graphic design using emerging electronic tools. Meanwhile, Patrick Codenys and Jean-Luc De Meyer had separately formed a group called Under Viewer. The two duos merged in 1982. At first, Bressanutti, Codenys and De Meyer took turns on vocals, until they settled on De Meyer as the lead vocalist and primary songwriter. Front 242’s former roadie, Richard Jonckheere, known as Richard 23, replaced Bergen in 1983. Front 242 gravitated from synth pop to its more signature combination of electronic dance and industrial music, known as electronic body music (EBM). The music grew in popularity, but eventually Front 242 went on hiatus in 1993, with sporadic regroupings over the years. Front 242’s eighth and most recent album is 2003’s Pulse. Front 242 presently consists of de Meyer, Bressanutti, Codenys, Jonckheere and drummer Tim Kroker.
Considering the multi-layered thickness of current EBM music and the lavish productions of current dance music producers, Front 242’s headlining performance at Irving Plaza tonight was raw and even primitive. The bare-boned music was devoid of guitars and bass, entirely performed on synths and percussion, with bristling vocals that were ominous, abrasive and menacing. The appeal here was more to the goths and underground followers than to a mass population of pop followers, so the sound throbbed harder, darker and edgier than what is played typically at dance clubs. There is an audience for this aggressive style of music, but is that audience large enough to sustain Front 242? Hopefully yes.
X/Stage 48/September 21, 2017
Originally from Decatur, Illinois, John Nommensen Duchac moved to Los Angeles, California, where he became known as John Doe. Through a classified ad in a local newspaper in 1976, Doe met guitar player Tyson Kindell of Savanna, Illinois. Kindell would soon be known as Billy Zoom. Together they formed the local punk rock pioneer band called X. Doe then brought to band practices his poetry-writing girlfriend Christine “Exene” Cervenka, originally of Chicago, Illinois, and she eventually joined the band as a vocalist. Drummer Donald “D.J.” Bonebrake, the band’s only native Californian, was the last of the original members to join. Doe and Cervenka co-wrote most of the group’s songs, much of which had poetic lyrics and a rockabilly edge, and their slightly off-kilter harmony vocals became the group’s most distinctive element. X separated and reunited several times since the mid-1980s, but has toured almost annually since 2008. X’s seventh and most recent album is 1993’s Hey Zeus!
There are few surprises at an X concert. For the most part, the band is bound to perform the same catalogue of songs the same way they were performed the last time around. At Stage 48 tonight, the only surprise was that Zoom sat on a stool the entire show, perhaps due to his recent cancer-related treatments. X once again concentrated on its first four albums, and revived the songs through intense power and speed. Gripping vocal interplay, stinging lead guitar runs and a thrusting rhythm section maintained high energy on stage and in the audience. The band celebrates its 40th anniversary on this tour, still with the original lineup. Unfortunately, however, the band has been doing pretty close to the same set for about 30 years. X is a strong unit, but how much longer will the band keep its fans waiting for new music?
The War on Drugs/Rumsey Playfield/September 22, 2017
In 2003, Adam Granduciel moved from Oakland, California to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where he met Kurt Vile, who had also recently moved back to Philadelphia after living for two years in Boston, Massachusetts. Granduciel previously had toured and recorded with The Capitol Years, and Vile had recorded solo demo tapes. Granduciel and Vile subsequently began writing, recording and performing music together, first in Vile’s band, which would come to be known as Kurt Vile & the Violators, and then in Granduciel’s band, which would come to be known as The War on Drugs in 2005. Vile left the War on Drugs after a year, and since then several musicians have played both in the War on Drugs and the Violators. The War on Drugs released its fourth album, A Deeper Understanding, on August 25, 2017, and presently consists of vocalist/guitarist Granduciel, guitarist Anthony LaMarca, keyboardist Robbie Bennett, saxophonist/keyboardist Jon Natchez, bassist David Hartley, and drummer Charlie Hall.
The War On Drugs’ 2017 tour launched in its hometown of Philadelphia, but quickly made its way to New York City for shows at Terminal 5 and at CityPark’s SummerStage at Rumsey Playfield in Central Park. The shows were nearly identical, in that they concentrated on introducing the new album; nine of the album’s 10 songs were performed, as compared with five from the previous album and one from the debut album. The set also included a cover of Warren Zevon’s “Accidentally Like a Martyr.” Granduciel’s vocals were a bit coarse, not the type you would near on a hit single, but since many of the lyrics were rather confessional, the vocals sounded revelatory and even cathartic. It seemed each song included extended guitar noodling, more shoegazey than flashy, for a hypnotic effect. The band maintained a light and breezy sound that was heightened with synthesizer and saxophone. Performances like this prove that the War on Drugs is the current “it” band in indie rock.