Ancient Afghan Whigs Hot Press Reviews: Gentlemen, November 1993 and Rock Garden, Feb 1994.

I’ve been perusing old Hot Presses that have been unread in an attic for decades and that had and have pieces in them by me and friends and esteemed colleagues. Plan is save some of them in a scrapbook as well as here. A fair few pieces are in the magazines and not on the HP website though loads are there too. Some I’ve seen since 2000ish but many I haven’t. Here are couple of Afghan Whigs reviews I did in my first HP year while about to turn twenty, of an album and show that blew my tiny little mind. Still do! Listening to ‘My Curse’ in particular while transcribing the album review sent me stupendous shivers. The guy with the circled head below is me beginning to review The Afghan Whigs in The Rock Garden, quite close to Greg Dulli, fuelled by angst and rapture. OK no notes taken, but I remembered the show well, and I still do.


MUST WE fling this dazzling but thoroughly harrowing filth at our pop kids? Let them dream, I say. They—we—shouldn’t have to go through an aural ordeal like Gentlemen. Breaking up is hard to do, that much we’ve already established, but, Jesus, does it have to be like this?

As a young person, it’s my privilege to be blithely ignorant and hence optimistic about my chances of achieving lifelong spiritual fufilment; so, although the number of even mildly rewarding relationships I’ve been a part of could be counted on the fingers of one elbow, I still feel it’s not unreasonable to expect Ms. Goodbar to, any second now, pop her Juliette Binoche-resembling face around the jamb of the door and enquire “Voulez-vous avoir hitched?”

Whereupon we’ll wander off through the honeysuckle to say howdy partner to the moon gliding down behind Lake Pontchartrain as we make our airy way towards a higher state of being. It’s not much to ask, and it will happen.

Or will it? Now I’m not so sure. I’m fairly certain that Greg Dulli, singer and songwriter with the Afghan Whigs, he of the amusing facial hair and the recently extinguished love affair, felt like that once. Which makes it all the more crushingly disillusioning to hear him explain in gruesome detail just why this falling-in-love lark serves no purpose but to squander valuable emotional energies that would see a more bountiful return (i.e. any at all) if invested in a cute fluffy puppy or a record collection, now there’s an idea.

Gentlemen is a song cycle (modelled on Astral Weeks, says Greg, although any similarity is solely in the layout) whose central theme is the laborious disintegration of a relationship which has gone away, way past its so-much-look-at-this-twice-and-you’ll-contract-incurable-botulism date.

Its pain—and pain in present in unhealthy dollops—derives not from love but from the contempt Mr Dulli feels for someone he can’t believe he once would’ve killed for; both she and he need desperately to find something more than this claustrophobic degradation (“Hurt me baby / I flinch so when you do / Your kisses scourge me / Hyssop in your perfume / Oh, I do not fear you / And slave I only use / As a word to describe / The special way I feel for you”) but hey, you know how it is when you’ve subsumed so much of your partner’s being into your own that any separation results in heroin-like withdrawal symptoms. No? Me neither. I don’t relate, and I hope I never can.

Of course, being a paragon of machismo, as evidenced by his prodigious goatee and his announcement in the marginally self-loathing “I got a dick for a brain”, Dulli blames his lover for both his and her cloying, self-belittling behaviour (“I warn you / If cornered / I’ll scratch my way out of the pen … You want to scare me / Then you’ll cling to me / No matter what I do … This must be what jail is really like”—’What Jail Is Like’).

Presumably, he couldn’t go so far as to write a song which acknowledged his own part-responsibility for the sorry state of his affair, so any humble pie consumption is left to his cover of ‘I Just Keep Coming Back’, which would be gut-wrenching but it’s the last song (not the last track, though—that honour goes to ‘Brother Woodrow / Closing Prayer’, a ravaged, perplexed instumental) and by then one’s gut has been truly wrenched and replaced by a blob of lead-flavoured jelly. Play it apart from the rest of the album and it alone is worth the price of admission; in some states of the U.S., there are laws against this type of helpless, confused poignancy.

Of course this record is essential, if only to enlighten people like me who wonder “Why can’t people just be nice?” as to the reasons for the oddest of human behaviour, and as to how not to follow in the rather treacherous footsteps of Greg and his ‘friend’.

Buy it, and hope you never need it.


November 1993. P.S. in 2023: I’ve no idea how that only got 10/12. Not even 11! I was new.

THE AFGHAN WHIGS (Rock Garden, Dublin)

GIGS ARE there to be enjoyed, no? NO. Not this one, at any rate. There’s more to an Afghan Whigs concert than standing at the back, humming along and taking the odd smiling slurp from your tipple of choice. Greg Dulli screams, he moans, he smiles on the odd occasion, he glares at his audience in a most disconcerting manner, he exorcises every demon he has and a few more besides (I’m sure if you ask him nicely he’ll exorcise yours as well), and consequently an evening in his company involves as much endurance as enjoyment. Bob Dylan famously replied to a journalist who mentioned that she enjoyed listening to Blood On The Tracks, “I don’t know how you can enjoy such pain.” Tonight was like that.

Greg Dulli looks like a regular guy, now more than ever, since he shaved off his moderately Satanic goatee. But he’s not. What he is, is a fucking lunatic. Gentlemen was the joint finest album of last year, in particular because of Dulli’s gloriously demented songs and singing; his talent for losing the rag and howling at the moon with impotent rage is only seriously rivalled in the ’90s so far by Dave Couse on the jaw-dislocatingly brilliant I Want Too Much. But unlike an A House gig, there is little let-up on the intensity, and Couse-esque jokey meanderings are few and, indeed, far between.

The songs, live, are just as punishing and as emotionally cleansing as the songs, on record. The guitar break on ‘Be Sweet’ still sears, the lines “What should I tell her/she’s going to ask . . . Yeah, I think she believes me/Every word I say/I think I’m starting to believe it all myself . . . ,” from ‘If I Were Going’ still make you cringe if you have ever lied to someone you shouldn’t have, and their version of ‘My World Is Empty Without You’ still makes you shudder and wonder.

The encores were beyond belief, consisting of the two key songs from the album, ‘What Jail Is Like’ and ‘My Curse’ (which he doesn’t even sing on the record because it’s so hurting and hurtful as to be positively depraved), their warped love sent out charging with a viciousness and ferocity some say pop can no longer hold. Striking stuff.

Four days later, we’re still recovering. In a few weeks, we’ll be saying it was fun. For now though, you’ll have to settle for draining and curiously uplifting. A night to remember.

4 responses to “Ancient Afghan Whigs Hot Press Reviews: Gentlemen, November 1993 and Rock Garden, Feb 1994.”

  1. What era Hot Press do you have?

    1. Hiya. Mostly mid 90s. Like 93 to 97. A period I started writing in them.

      1. Thanks. Would love to get hands on late 80s, early 90s when I was a subscriber. Unfortunately I tossed them when moving way back 🫣

      2. I’ll message you on Twitter.

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