In late October, ’90s AltRock heroes The Afghan Whigs played their first show in Cincinnati — the city in which the band formed — in 13 years at Bogart’s in Corryville.
The concert was in the midst of a successful global “reunion” tour, universally hailed as a triumphant return to form. The Whigs’ “homecoming” show was equally powerful, showing that the group had not just returned to peak form — as a live act (and they’ve always been one of the best), the Whigs never sounded better. The core of the group (singer/guitarist/songwriter Greg Dulli, guitarist Rick McCollum and the only still-Cincinnatian, John Curley) were leaner (literally — Dulli and Curley looked downright “buff”), tighter and more effective in concert than ever.
Not many left that show disappointed, but a few fans were surprised with the brevity of the Bogart’s show. When comparing set lists from the Whigs’ other shows on the tour, it appeared that the band played a slightly truncated set.
Perhaps that was because the band (and its fans) knew that it wasn’t the last waltz. The Whigs had already been booked for a concert on New Year’s Eve at Bogart’s.
It’s anyone’s guess what the Whigs will play Monday night, but the opening acts on the bill give the show a “family reunion” feel and provide a hint that at least one song not played in October would make it into the NYE set.
Columbus’ Scrawl have long been pals of the Whigs, working the same tour circuits early on. The friendship with Scrawl singer Marcy Mays even resulted in one of the highlight moments on The Afghan Whigs’ breakthrough LP, Gentlemen, the Mays-sung “My Curse.” Ever since the song was released, if Scrawl was on a festival or show bill with the Whigs, inevitably, Mays would join the group for a rendition of the heart-breaking tune. If it happens at Bogart’s Monday, it might just be the least surprising “surprise moment” of the night.
The other opening act for Monday’s show is Goose, whose members have an even longer association with the Whigs. Along with Sammy Wulfeck on bass
Goose features brothers Jason and Jordan Arbenz and drummer Paul Cavins who performed around Cincinnati as Liquid Hippos in the ’80s. Along pals with Scrawl in their early years, the Hippos included drummer Michael Horrigan (Cavins played bass), who would go on to join the Whigs for a spell.
The Hippos ran in the same local circles as the Whigs, even, as Arbenz recalls, before they were the Whigs.
“We all came to know Greg and John (around) ’85 or ’86, when they were called the Black Republicans,” he says via email. “We became fast friends and I remember Greg telling me on the phone his new band would be called The Afghan Whigs. I, of course, was curious what their name would be in three weeks, since that, obviously, would never work!”
The Hippos and Whigs also recorded the first two albums for the short-lived Ultrasuede label — the Whigs’ debut, Big Top Halloween, was Ultrasuede’s first release and featured some work by Jason Arbenz, while the label’s second release, Shellac The Bozak by Liquid Hippos, featured appearances by both Dulli and Curley.
When the Hippos broke up, Horrigan and Jordan Arbenz formed The Love Cowboys while Jason Arbenz and Cavins eventually launched Throneberry. How’s this for a full-circle twist on Monday night’s triple bill — at the final Hippos show, “The Stewkie Brothers” (which was the Whigs plus Cavins and Jason) performed an early version of what would, five years later, become “My Curse.” Maybe an all-star jam is in order?
Throneberry would also become one of the bigger bands to come out of Cincinnati in the ’90s. Jason says the Whigs continued to have a “tremendous effect” on his band. According to Jason, Dulli heard an early live version of the Throneberry song “Touched” at the old Short Vine haunt Sudsy Malone’s in the early ’90s and made him an offer.
“He told me that song was our ticket and that if I’d let him produce a version of it, we’d get signed,” Jason says. “And that is exactly what happened.”
Throneberry signed with Alias Records (home to Archers of Loaf, Yo La Tengo and many other Alt stars), which put “Touched” out as the band’s first single in 1993. Despite the label asking for a more polished mix, the version ultimately used was Dulli’s original demo of the song. Throneberry played often with the Whigs, most notably in the spring of ’96 when both acts toured Europe together.
Though Jason admits some bad blood emerged between the two bands when Horrigan jumped the Throneberry ship to join the Whigs, he’s thrilled that he’s been able to make up with his old pals.
“It took a while for two fairly headstrong people to reconcile,” he says (referring to himself and Dulli), “but it has happened and the newfound affection feels very warm and right.”
At press time, somewhat shockingly, there were still tickets available for Monday night’s Whigs show at Bogart’s. Tickets are $65 and available at ticketmaster.com.