“I’m just going to the toilet” says Andy Bennett, from Leicester’s finest band, We Three And The Death Rattle, and he disappears, never to return again for the rest of the evening. Andy is here merely on a leisure pursuit tonight, and, after bumping into him, we had been having a good old chat for the past twenty minutes. His departure seemed to tie in with a comment I made about this being the first year I had completely given up listening to the Radio 1 Top 40 chart rundown. Whether my admission that I was still listening to such a wretched show right up to the end of last year diminished my ‘cool factor’ in his eyes (if, indeed, I ever had one) to the extent that he could no longer bear to be in my company, I wouldn’t like to guess…
More likely, I suspect (and hope), is that tonight’s support act, Ed Harcourt, surprised us all so much with his versatility that Andy found himself rather caught up in the moment and merely stood transfixed during his return journey. Truth is, most gig goers still generally endure, rather than enjoy, the support act, politely applauding them whilst inside really just impatient for the main event. With Ed though, you tend to find that the audience either already knows and loves his work, or is very quickly won over. It is easy to see why. Building his opening number around impromptu loops and beats (‘Occupational Hazard‘), he flits between identities of one man band, piano balladeer and acoustic folk hero with the greatest of ease. Throughout all this, the guy always comes across as humble, witty and charming, and, having just celebrated his 40th birthday (as he was quick to inform us), the quality of his songwriting has yet to suffer any kind of dip in form. It must be a pleasure to have Ed as support on your tour.
The Afghan Whigs themselves, meanwhile, are that rarest of breeds – a band who, if you were attending with a friend unfamiliar with their work, it wouldn’t actually matter. Normally, I would suggest to perhaps listen to at least the latest album and a few further tracks beforehand, but the truth is, the band is so tight, so adept at pulling off – and, in fact, improving – their extensive back catalogue that a night out with them could never be deemed a chore, even to the uninitiated. I might even argue that the best introduction to Greg Dulli and his cohorts is merely to see them perform live.
Tonight’s show, understandably, pays homage to long term friend and bandmate Dave Rosser, who passed away less than two months ago from inoperable colon cancer. Rosser was a big part of Dulli’s side projects The Twilight Singers and The Gutter Twins, as well as the most recent incarnation of the Whigs, and whilst the band’s recent version of Pleasure Club‘s ‘You Want Love‘ was reimagined as an ode to Rosser, and this evening ‘Can Rova‘ is cited as such (“This was one of Dave’s favourite songs to play“), you actually come away feeling that the entire show could be passed off as the ultimate in tributes to the late guitarist.
A large portion of the setlist is made up of tracks from this year’s In Spades album, which, it must be said, come across rather brilliantly live, and, delightfully, all of the best tracks from 2014’s Do To The Beast as well as most of the standouts from what I, and many others, still regard as their masterpiece – Black Love. The songs are intense and beautifully atmospheric, the recent tragic bereavement perhaps even ramping up the potency still further.
Despite the alarming lack of numbers from arguably their best known album, Gentlemen (total count = zero), The Afghan Whigs nevertheless put on a tremendous show that ends with Black Love‘s brilliant ‘Faded‘, which is something, I suspect, that this band will never be. As classy as ever.
PHOTO CREDITS: PAUL RENO.