Afghan Whigs’ Showtime at the Apollo

The Afghan Whigs ignite Harlem’s Apollo Theater. (PHOTO: Wes Orshoski)

When the Afghan Whigs last played New York City in 2014, it was October 4 and close to tour’s end supporting Do to the Beast, the band’s seventh studio album—and first following a nearly 14-year hiatus—at the Beacon Theater. Nearly three years later, the band returned to the Apollo Theater backing their eight studio album, In Spades, partially rooted in bits and pieces of the singer Greg Dulli’s Twilight Singers, the Whigs’ Black Love or more mature Gentlemen(ly) past (also the first time since Love that a Whigs album was recorded live by a full band in studio) and present, including portions of Beast. Now a five-piece, Dulli’s The Twilight Singers cohort, and longtime Whigs guitarist, Dave Rosser, stepped down from band last fall to undergo treatments following his colon cancer diagnosis.

Every arrangement—kicking off the Spades tour at one of the most iconic venues in New York City before shifting to Europe, or throwing in a fall NYC return to Brooklyn newcomer Brooklyn Steel (Sept. 16) for good measure—seems fine-tuned. And it is. Despite changing times, and lineup, the Afghan Whigs delivered a soul symphony of rock Tuesday night at the Apollo.

Greg Dulli orchestrating the band’s night at the Apollo. (PHOTO: Wes Orshoski)

“Good evening Apollo. I’ve been waiting my whole life to say those words,” said Dulli, before gliding into Beast’s “Metamoros.” Built on R & B and soul roots, there was no better stage for the Afghan Whigs than the historic Harlem venue. Slithering across the Apollo stage like a sinister conductor, making eye contact (some would say soul contact) with the crowd, Dulli opened the Afghan Whigs’ show time with “Birdland” and “Arabian Nights,” two of seven Spades tracks weaved into the evening’s nearly two-hour set. Filled with mostly Spades and Beast tracks, the Apollo Opus later floated from “Algiers” to “Gentlemen” rounding things out more with 1965 singles “”John the Baptist” and “Somethin’ Hot” and pieces of Love, which ultimately closed the show.

For the Whigs, In Spades is another blast from the past, to Sub Pop Records. (The band was on the ’90s Seattle mainstay during its Up In It run through ’91, then back again for 2014’s Beast.)

Guests crooned along with Dulli throughout the evening, including the band’s own Steve Myers, also of Brooklyn’s Mighty Fine, while a lustful longing of John Cale’s “Magnolia” left Dulli and soul’s Elmer “Lee” Fields pleading “You’re the best I ever had.” Dulli dedicated a cover of New Orleans’ now-defunct Pleasure Club’s “You Want Love” to Rosser, a fan of the John Vincent Hall-fronted band; The Twilight’s “Teenage Wristband’ was also weaved into the evening.

Dulli (l) and Lee Fields croon on John J. Cale’s “Magnolia.” (PHOTO: Wes Orshoski)

Prior to the band’s set, Joseph Arthur, who joined Dulli on his 2016 solo effort, shared a folk-driven, half-hour warm up for the Apollo crowd, hungry for the Afghan Whigs. An unexpected, delicate cover of Bonnie Rait’s 1991 hit “I Can’t Make You Love Me,” served as a brief intro to Love’s “Faded.” Arthur joined the band traipsing around the stage with a gold lamé-clad, 007-worthy dancing blonde as the band closed out their night at the Apollo, just as the Afghan Whigs tend to do. Sexy. Soulful. Debonair.

Apollo Setlist
Arabian Nights
Light as a Feather
Honky’s Ladder
You Want Love (Pleasure Club)
Magnolia (J.J. Cale)
Toy Automatic
Demon in Profile
It Kills
John the Baptist
Somethin’ Hot
Teenage Wristband (The Twilight Singers)
Lost in the Woods

Royal Cream
I Am Fire
Summer’s Kiss

Photos by Wes Orshoski