Live in Tel Aviv: Suffering, salvation, sin and sensuality
Veteran rocker Greg Dulli's first show was amazing: a frenzied, sweaty, dirty, cleansing rock 'n' roll storm; the second was excellent, but not as great.
Greg Dulli's fourth visit to Israel in six years finally gained him membership in Nick Cave's select club of headline rockers who love Israel and return over and over again (Cave himself, by the way, got tossed out of the club long ago and is liable to be brought up on AWOL charges if and when he ever shows up again ).
Dulli's first show in Tel Aviv, with the Twilight Singers, was amazing: a frenzied, sweaty, dirty, cleansing rock 'n' roll storm (at the end of the Second Lebanon War storm ). The second, with Mark Lanegan, was excellent, but not as great as the first. The third, again with the Twilight Singers, was very good, but somehow more run-of-the-mill.
The Afghan Whigs show two nights ago (the second show of the weekend; the first was held Friday night ) both emphasized the routine and sparked a new flame in the establishment of the relationship between Dulli and his Israeli fans. The show was incapable of being as uplifting as the first and suffered from a few minor weaknesses, but for the most part it managed to set fire to guitars and rhythm, sensuality and soul.
The Afghan Whigs, founded at the end of the 1980s, hit the big time (in alt rock terms ) with the astounding 1993 "Gentlemen" album, and disbanded at the end of the 1990s. The group recently reunited, the two Tel Aviv shows being the first on the band's reunion tour.
If there was any disappointment with the Saturday night show, it had to do with the fact that the Afghan Whigs, as a band, does not sound like a group motivated by a unique aesthetic, essentially different from that of the Twilight Singers, for example. In fact, some of the musicians are part of both lineups and the sound of the band is sometimes that of the Twilight Whigs.
No fewer than three guitarists took the stage, and to my mind that was too many. The sound was huge, echoing and drawn-out, instead of being sharp and incisive. Guitarist Rick McCollum, an Afghan Whig founder, turned out to be the weakest link, relatively speaking. Playing in a high register, slide-guitar style, his phrasings didn't mesh with the band's total sound. The other original member, bassist John Curley, was great, as were the younger drummer and keyboardist-cellist.
The addition of the cello to an aggressive rock band is, in most cases, pointless, but with the Afghan Whigs the cello was audible in the few numbers in which it played, and it added a kind of deep, acoustic and generally fine softness to the music.
The few reservations about the Afghan Whigs' sound and the fact that it sounds less good than the exceptional and meticulous band we remember from recordings, started to evaporate about four or five numbers into the set and almost disappeared altogether (what can I say? A connoisseur remains a connoisseur ) with the wonderful medley "When We Two Parted" and "Gentlemen." These moments signaled that Dulli was going deep into his quadruple S zone - suffering, salvation, sin and sensuality - the topics of all his songs as he once noted, and started to preach his rock 'n' roll and rock 'n' soul sermons to his faithful flock in the audience.
Dulli is a powerful singer, not a commonplace in the alt rock world full of mumbling soloists. His great singing at the Saturday night show was a reminder that he learned everything he knows from the great soul singers and that, in general, he is one of the blackest white singers in the world, both in his vocal flexibility and in his melding of tough masculinity and feminine softness.
The fact that Dulli is a black singer in a white body is also evident in the incorporation of covers in the Afghan Whigs' repertoire. Consciously or not, these covers are all those of white-bleached black singers (Michael Jackson, Diana Ross ) or black-inflected white singers (Steve Winwood ).
But no purple rain in the world could have dampened the smiles on audience's faces when Dulli and company finished the number "Faded," which closed the set before the encores, with the immortal guitar screech that closes Prince's "Purple Rain." So - come visit us again, the sooner the better.