For Afghan Whigs, Live Bash Is Reason To Celebrate

Cincinnati-based outfit serves San Francisco fans ample helpings of R&B-inflected post-punk sonics.

SAN FRANCISCO -- Some bandleaders take the stage demanding audience members bang their heads and scream. On Thursday night at the Fillmore Auditorium here, singer/guitarist Greg Dulli of soul-tinged post-punkers Afghan Whigs had a different objective: He wanted to play host.

"We've come to make party," Dulli said, after his Cincinnati-based outfit finished dissolving Stevie Wonder's "Superstition" into its own "Going to Town" (RealAudio excerpt) for the set opener.

Framed on either side by bassist John Curley and guitarist Rick McCollum in matching black suits and purple shirts, Dulli stood at center stage, grinning smugly and dressed all in black, including a pair of black shades he took off and put on throughout the show. Drummer Michael Horrigan and a trio of backing vocalists rounded out the ensemble.

Riding the crest of their fifth LP, 1965, released in October, and buoyed by a more upbeat Dulli -- who was diagnosed with and treated for clinical depression prior to recording the LP -- the Afghan Whigs came to celebrate, even taking the time to set up pink and blue pillar candles on the amplifiers to add that festive touch.

Frequently pointing out that he and his soul/rock outfit were intent on creating a party, Dulli was attentive to his "guests," checking with the near-capacity crowd at intervals to make sure everyone was having a good time.

Drawing liberally from their last three records, the Whigs tampered with their tunes, kicking off "Somethin' Hot" with a segment of the Temptations' "Papa Was a Rolling Stone" and offering up a gospel rendition of the soul-styled "When We Two Parted."

Dulli left the stage midway through the show, yielding the mic to backing vocalist Susan Marshall Powell, who led the band through a sultry version of "My Curse." When Dulli returned, it was with cigarette in hand and fedora on head, looking for all the world like the long-lost third Blues Brother.

Despite Dulli's exhortations to party, the atmosphere in the Fillmore was more suited to a high-school prom, with soft purple lights glancing off the chandeliers above crowds of well-dressed scene-makers.

The Whigs delved deep into their catalog, dusting off such older material as "Retarded," from their 1990 debut, Up in It. But the focus was primarily on newer material, such as the exuberant "66" (RealAudio excerpt), the straight-soul of "Neglekted" and the simmering "Crazy."

Never a band to pass on a good cover, the Whigs updated the Rolling Stones' "Beast of Burden" before the host bade a good night to San Francisco, Los Gatos, Humboldt County and most of Northern California. If fans had stuck around long enough, they might have seen him turn out the lights and tidy up.