Band reunions/artist comebacks can take one of a few turns. Some bands return fat and flabby, missing all the old magic, just looking for a paycheck. Others manage to crank out credible, even reasonably compelling, renditions of the hits, but they fall flat when it comes to new material. And a precious few -- Superchunk, Mission of Burma, Ian Hunter and Bob Mould** come to mind as shining recent examples -- manage to rock the bejeezus out of the old songs and still release albums full of new material that pushes the artistic envelope even further.
Let's add the Afghan Whigs*** to that last group. I won't say that this Stereogum "ranking" of all seven Afghan Whigs albums is indisputably perfect, but it's a solid effort. And it justifiably places their latest record -- 2014's Do To the Beast -- firmly in the middle of a pack of mighty distinguished records. For years, ever since Congregation to be exact, the Afghan Whigs have been mining a rock/soul fusion worthy, when all cylinders are firing at their best, of comparisons to the righteous Motor City groovefests laid down by the likes of the Stooges, MC5 and the Dirtbombs.
But somehow I had missed that boat the first time around, so when I heard the reformed band was touring again to support the Beast record, I was all-in.
Based on their show Friday night at Union Transfer in Philly, I made a good call. Better late than never. These guys are on fire. Granted, guitarist Rick McCollum is no longer in the band from the glory days, but in his place are two guitarists and a multi-instrumentalist to make sure his sizable musical contributions to the band's classics are not lost in the shuffle. There are now six core players, plus an additional backup vocalist on many songs, and the mega-lineup provides an unholy thunder amidst a deep, tight groove that is truly staggering. The newest songs have a spark that the Beast album only hints at, and the old stuff? All I could say to a friend at the end of "Debonair" was, "Holy shit. That was ridiculous They are killing it." One minute -- on "Going to Town" or "John the Baptist" or "Something Hot," for example -- they seem to be channeling Funkadelic, and the next -- "Faded" comes immediately to mind -- they flirt with an epic/anthemic approach worthy of Quadrophenia. But even when the band goes all classic rock on you, there is an underlying soul that shines through. I'm not sure how many of the youngsters in the crowd recognized that the extended vocal/piano intro to "Faded" was, in fact, most of Bobby Womack's "Across 110th Street," but this concertgoer had his mind blown by the way the band seamlessly blended the end of the Womack classic into one of their own best to close the show.
For 100 minutes, the Afghan Whigs owned Union Transfer on Friday night. I hope Greg Dulli and company keep the fires of this reunion burning. They have earned the right to venues full of amped-up fans with shows like this one.
**Bob took enough of a break from releasing rock albums that his last few records/tours are worthy of the "comeback" label.
***You'll notice that I ditched my usual habit of linking to AllMusicGuide reviews this time around. That's because the AMG review of Black Love is so uncharacteristically off-the-mark that I won't send them the traffic on this one. (I'm sure they're crushed).