The Mark of Excellence

The Afghan Whigs / Crocodiles

Phoenix Concert Theatre, Toronto, ON, October 3

> > Oct 04 2012

The Afghan Whigs / Crocodiles - Phoenix Concert Theatre, Toronto, ON, October 3
Photo: Vincent Pollard
By Vincent PollardIt didn't take long for the five members of San Diego's Crocodiles to warm up the crowd with their fuzz-laden, UK shoegaze-inspired sound. Playing an immediately absorbing set, they were a great choice of support act for Cincinnati's Afghan Whigs, although the vocals were a little lost in the mix. Funnily enough, one of the set's best moments came when the guitarist tapped the neck of his guitar on an audience member in the front row and mouthed, "get off your fucking phone." By rights, a band this good should be headlining a venue the size of the Phoenix.

Performing as a six-piece, the reunited Afghan Whigs took to the stage on time and without much ado, launching into perennial set opener "Crime Scene Part One." After the third track, "Uptown Again," singer Greg Dulli greeted the crowd, and when an audience member shouted a request for "Helter Skelter" and a heckle of "Hey Dulli!" the singer mocked, "We can't play that or we'd have to end the show. 'Hey Dulli!'? Are you from Boston?" before launching into "What Jail Is Like."

Only four tracks in and the Whigs had already managed to play a track each from their four most popular albums. The band then delivered Congregation's "Turn on the Water," the Sub Pop single that got them so much attention back in 1992, and thinking on their feet segued into a dreamy, jammed-out section with lyrics from the Beatles' "Helter Skelter," after which Dulli, smirking, asked the heckler, "How you feeling now, buddy?"

But that wasn't going to be the last cover of the night, as the next track, a super-mellow version of "When We Two Parted," felt more like a genuine ballad than the twisted love song that it is if you listen to the lyrics, ending with a rendition of Chantal Kreviazuk's part of Drake's "Over My Dead Body."

Over the course of the evening, the Afghan Whigs played an almost even split between tracks from Gentlemen, Black Love,1965 and covers. Highlights of the set were driving versions of "Gentlemen" and "My Enemy," after which Dulli sat down on the edge of stage to perform their gorgeous cover of Marie "Queenie" Lyons's soul classic "See and Don't See," the singer jumping into the pit for the chorus. Once back onstage, Dulli seated himself at the Rhodes for a fantastic cover of Frank Ocean's "Lovecrimes." After a brief diversion into a cover of Bo Diddley's "Who Do You Love?" the band launched into a blistering version of "Fountain and Fairfax" — the absolute highlight of the night.

Following a short break, the Whigs came back on for an encore, Dulli kicking off the proceedings by yelling, "Everybody smoke some weed... I'm not joking!" before launching into the closing three tracks of the cinematic Black Love album. As the band left the stage and the outro of "Faded" rang out, he stepped up to the mic with the parting shot, "Seriously, if you happen to find that joint, send it on back!"

A solid, passionate performance throughout, the show's main delight was how integrated the 1965 tracks sounded amongst the older material, standing out like less of a sore thumb than the album did when it came out back in 1998, the songs benefitting from the live setting as opposed to the Aerosmith-lite AOR-style overproduction that the album greatly suffers from. The band were less lush and orchestral than they were back in 1996, but almost nearly as invested and energetic as they were back then, which is more than you can say for most reformed '90s bands on the circuit today.
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