The Afghan Whigs Deliver Intimate Rapid-Fire Rock Performance at Orlando’s The Social (SHOW REVIEW)

On a Friday night (5/13) where rain kept the typical crowds away from downtown Orlando, middle-aged rock fans packed The Social to see Cincinnati veterans The Afghan Whigs. With no opening act and minimal lighting, the band delivered a no-frills 90-minute set that highlighted what the rockers do well.

Starting with the frenetic “I’ll Make You See God,” off the upcoming How Do You Burn, the Afghan Whigs balanced hard rockers with ballads, rapid-fire songs with slow and mid-tempo.  They covered a lot of material from the new album and 2017’s In Spades as well as a number of selections dating back to the 90s. Songs like “Oriole” started soft and soothing before building to become much more powerful than the album version.

And much louder. In another throwback to 90s alt-rock, anyone in attendance without earplugs is probably still having hearing issues.

Throughout the set, the band mixed elements of alternative rock, psychedelic rock, R&B, and even a splash of country.  Heavy distorted guitars and walls of feedback met soulful keyboards, John Curley’s propulsive bass, and swelling violin. Frontman Greg Dulli had a calming presence with occasional bursts of aggression. Partly because of the cramped stage that offered little room for movement, the band let the music be the focus without much in terms of showmanship. 

The small venue offered an intimate atmosphere where the band could connect with the audience. When Dulli spoke to the crowd, it was usually with sardonic comments and deadpan jokes. At one point — probably joking — he called out one fan for standing with his arms crossed. “You don’t have to put your hands in the air but when you stand like that, it’s like you’re saying, ‘show me something,’” Dulli said. “You look like my mom when she was waiting for me to take out the trash.”

Later in the show, Dulli checked on that fan to make sure there were no hard feelings. “Are we cool? How about we start over? This next song’s for you,” he said.

Fans yelled song requests throughout the show. At one point, several songs were yelled at the same time. “Look, we can’t play all of those. We don’t have time,” Dulli said. “Tonight’s disco night after the show, so we gotta go and you gotta go.”

The breakneck staccato riffing of “Gentlemen” and the heavy choruses of “What Jail Is Like” displayed the band’s raw, powerful intensity. Toward the end of the set, Dulli put down his guitar and played the keyboards for three ballads, starting with another new song, “Please, Baby, Please.” Dulli’s voice, usually a raspy howl, was quiet and vulnerable in “Demon In Profile.”

At its best, the Afghan Whigs were neither heavy nor soft, but somewhere in between. The party anthem “Somethin’ Hot” featured the band’s best riffing and Dulli’s seductive croon. With “John the Baptist,” the band put its distinct version of R&B on display, with a soulful sing-along chorus, Curly’s danceable bass groove, and overdriven guitars. 

After the latter song, the band did a fake encore. “This would be the part of the show where we would leave and stand backstage while you try to entice us to return,” Dulli said. The Social, however, doesn’t have a backstage area, so the band stayed where they were. “But what could be better than doing it to our faces?”

After the crowd got suitably loud, the Afghan Whigs played a few more songs, including “Summer’s Kiss” and its slow building of intensity, and ending with the dreamy arpeggios of “Into the Floor.” Dulli then introduced the band and left the stage while his bandmates tore through an extended jam that included new guitarist Christopher Thorn’s best soloing.

And then it ended like it began, with no frills and no fanfare. The band just walked offstage and disappeared and the show was over. But before he left, Dulli had one more comment. “I hope we can come back sometime when it’s not disco night.”

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