The Bowery Presents
The Afghan Whigs

The Afghan Whigs

The Budos Band

Tue, May 23, 2017

Doors: 7:00 pm / Show: 8:00 pm

Apollo Theater

New York, NY

$59.50, $49.50

Sold Out

The Afghan Whigs
The Afghan Whigs
“Cleromancy” isn’t a word one normally finds in rock lyrics. Then again, In Spades – the forthcoming album by The Afghan Whigs, from which the new song “Oriole” hails – is defined only by its own mystical inner logic. The term means to divine, in a supernatural manner, a prediction of destiny from the random casting of lots: the throwing of dice, picking a card from a deck. From its evocative cover art to the troubled spirits haunting the words, In Spades casts a spell that challenges the listener to unpack its dark metaphors and spectral imagery. “It’s a spooky record,” notes Greg Dulli, Afghan Whigs’ songwriter and frontman. “I like that it’s veiled. It’s not a concept album per se, but as I began to assemble it, I saw an arc and followed it. To me it’s about memory – in particular, how quickly life and memory can blur together.”

On the one hand, In Spades is as quintessentially Afghan Whigs as anything the group has ever done – fulfilling its original mandate to explore the missing link between howling Midwestern punk like Die Kreuzen and Hüsker Dü, The Temptations’ psychedelic soul symphonies, and the expansive hard rock tapestries of Led Zeppelin and Lynyrd Skynyrd. At the same time, this new record continues to push beyond anything in the Whigs’ previous repertoire – another trademark, along with the explosive group dynamic captured on the recording.

Indeed, the chemistry of the lineup – Dulli, guitarists Dave Rosser and Jon Skibic, drummer Patrick Keeler, multi-instrumentalist Rick Nelson, and Whigs co-founder/bassist John Curley – set the tone for In Spades’ creation. When it came to follow up the band’s triumphant return to recording – Do To the Beast (Sub Pop 2014), which was the band’s first ever Top 40 album, – the die was cast. “This is the first time since Black Love [the Whigs’ 1996 noir masterpiece] that we’ve done a full-blown band album,” Dulli says. “As the last tour wound down, Greg and I realized we wanted to keep the momentum going and roll that energy into making a record,” Curley explains. “I’m old school in that way. Having a band seasoned in playing together was how we made [classic Whigs albums like] Gentlemen and Congregation and it just felt right.”

In fact, In Spades’ crushing closing track “Into The Floor” had actually evolved out of an onstage jam that concluded Whigs fan favorite “Miles Iz Dead” every night. “People would ask all the time why don't you record that?,” Dulli says. “One day we were like, ‘Well, why don't we?’ And we nailed it in one take.”

Material continued to come fast and furious. Two months after the Whigs’ 2015 tour concluded, the band members reconvened at Nelson’s studio Marigny Sound in New Orleans; within a week, half of the ten songs that would make In Spades final tracklist were laid down. Something heavy clearly hung in the air. Standout “Copernicus” rocks with a thump evoking T. Rex meets Jesus Lizard, while “Arabian Heights” exudes the gutbucket exoticism of Houses of the Holy and Physical Graffiti writ large, driven by Keeler’s bravura, muscularly tribal cadences. “Rick [Nelson, who engineered the album] got incredible drum sounds, and what Patrick does on that song is a master class in drumming,” Dulli says. “It was like watching a Formula One racer move through the gears. And the combination of Rosser’s Southern grease and Skibic’s guitar acrobatics kept astounding me. Skibic is a master of atmosphere: the sounds he makes on ‘Oriole’ are like a cosmic smoke machine.”

The Afghan Whigs’ soul side also rises to new heights on In Spades, largely inspired by the lush productions of R&B genius Norman Whitfield for The Temptations and Undisputed Truth. Throughout his oeuvre, Dulli has employed horn sections to tantalizing effect since 1965, the 1998 swan song LP from the Whigs’ first incarnation – and yes, that’s a young Kamasi Washington playing on “Esta Noche” off of Dulli’s post-Whigs outfit The Twilight Singers’ 2003 opus Blackberry Belle. However, on In Spades he truly harnesses their soul power on songs like “Toy Automatic.” “I brought the horns in on ‘Toy Automatic’ for emotional devastation,” Dulli explains. “The horns pulling those long lines gave me so much power: when they come in, the song takes off, and I sing with everything I have. It might be the most unbridled vocal I’ve ever done. Every record I have a favorite child, and ‘Toy Automatic’ is that here.

In Spades also reveals a new, brutalist minimalism to Dulli’s wordplay: lines like “Don’t you cum when they come for me” and “Taste your fear/They rely on volunteers” (both from “Arabian Heights”) succinctly distill the vivid, paranoiac eroticism he’s become famed for. “Greg’s reached a place where he can now say more with less,” Curley says. “The lyrics stand on their own as written, even on the page, separate from the song.” A renowned lyricist, here Dulli revels in the play of phonetics, letting the sounds lead to imagistic, often surreal wordplay, like the provocative couplets enlivening “Copernicus”: “Listen in the distance/As the sky begins to fall/Raining down like crystalline/Apocalypse in thrall.”

According to Dulli, his recent lyrical obsessions reflect the period spent “writing these songs alongside some of the most peculiar upheavals in history” – both personal and global. Mortality was never far from his mind: “I Got Lost” was written in the wake of Dulli learning that longtime collaborator Dave Rosser had been diagnosed with inoperable colon cancer. As well, Dulli found himself profoundly affected by the recent passing of many of the icons that inspired him to make music in the first place. “It was a year of unrelenting death,” he says. “The reaper was hungry in 2016. Prince’s passing perhaps affected me the most. He was my North Star. Watching him upped my quality control, and opened my eyes to the absolute joy and necessity of self-evolution.”

As such, while tracks like “Light As a Feather” exude the rhythmic tension and psychosexual aura of signature Whigs numbers like “John the Baptist,” other songs fearlessly enter completely uncharted waters. “The way the album sounded as it took direction was a surprise, but then with Greg, it always is,” says Curley.

In Spades in fact features some of Dulli’s catchiest material yet – yet pointedly eschews simple verse-chorus-verse structures for ambitious arrangements and soundscapes laced with irresistible hooks, riffs, and textures. On “Arabian Heights,” Rosser thrillingly mirrors Dulli’s vocal melody with winsome slide guitar; elsewhere, “Into the Floor” suggests “The Boys of Summer” chopped and screwed with shoegaze’s lysergic sway. Most startling, though, prove the innovations of widescreen piano ballad “I Got Lost” and especially of album opener “Birdland,” with its jazzy, syncopated changes and Jimmy Scott-influenced vocal melodies.

In name and aesthetic alike, “Birdland” seems to pay homage the iconic New York jazz club that provided a crucial venue for greats like Charlie Parker and Lester Young. However, its title actually serves as a literal reference to a neighborhood in Ross, Ohio where Dulli went to school in his youth, so named because all the streets are evocatively named after birds: finch, cardinal, oriole, and so on. “Birdland” commences In Spades with the line “I was a child,” placing the listener firmly in primal psychological territory. It’s a zone that Dulli has explored previously: “If I Were Going” off Gentlemen refers to a book of the same name that piqued his childhood imagination to other worlds, and Do To the Beast explored this theme as well. In Spades, however, goes even further, probing the unconscious self to its fullest metaphysical extent. “There’s a difference between nostalgia and connecting with your past,” Dulli notes. “For the last few years, I’ve been in touch with the younger me: I clearly don’t want to get too far away from that kid. I had a lucid dream about my childhood: I was watching myself as a boy in Birdland, playing basketball with my friends. I knew exactly where I was, and when I woke up from that dream, I wrote ‘Oriole.’ I thought a lot, too, about these distinct memories of when I used to ride my bike through a field near the river. I would see a place I didn’t understand, or know where it was – but I’m in that place now. I was here before I got here; I was already waiting for me.”

The joys, sorrows, and upheavals of innocence and experience echo throughout In Spades: it powerfully documents where The Afghan Whigs have been, and where they might go next. For Dulli and Curley, it’s a journey that has spanned decades – from their origins as the first Sub Pop act to be signed from outside the label’s Pacific Northwest base up through the present day, and beyond. Dulli notes they were barely in their twenties when they first started the band, and yet here they are, fulfilling dreams long held and frequently realized. “Having a break from the Whigs helped me remember what made it so rewarding,” Curley continues. “When we broke up, we were burnt out and ground down, but I never stopped being friends with Greg. Over the course of a lifetime, there are constants, and there’s also change. You see who’s dropped off the vine – who’s going in reverse, and who’s still by your side. It’s interesting to see where life takes you, and where it doesn’t. That’s the journey and it hasn’t stopped.”
The Budos Band
The Budos Band
When it came time to title their new album, one decision was easy: “This isn’t The Budos Band IV,” proclaims drummer Brian Profilio. “This isn’t just more of the same.” The Budos Band embarked on an experimental journey since the release of The Budos Band III in 2010, seeking inspiration from sources far and wide.

While wizards use books of spells and alchemy to mix their masterful potions, the Budos employ heavy doses of continent-spanning psychedelic rock to beckon the occult and conjure the supernatural. Hence the title of the band’s fourth album: Burnt Offering.

"We made a conscious decision to embark on a new sound," explains baritone saxophone player Jared Tankel. The heavy, trippy side the group unveiled on The Budos Band III reaches full flower on new tunes like "Aphasia," "Trouble in the Sticks" and particularly the title track “Burnt Offering.” “We were messing around with an old Binson Echorec at practice one night and this loop emerged,” recalls bassist Dan Foder. The droning fuzz guitar is a call to the gods from below and encapsulates the band’s sonic progression perfectly. "This record is fuzzy, buzzy and raw, and more obviously psychedelic," adds Profilio.

Like a cratedigger's classic from a parallel universe, "Tomahawk" melds heavy, distorted guitar riffs with bright blasts of brass and bubbling drums. An eerie, ceremonial vibe awakens the slumbering giant "Into The Fog" and prods it to life.

Driven by melodies, rhythms, and changes that animate muscle and bone to move, yet compel the ear to lean in closer, these full-bodied instrumentals push Budos' music deeper into new territory.

All lingering traces of touchstones of yore—be they Fela Kuti, Dyke and the Blazers, or Black Sabbath—have been wholly absorbed and filtered through the Budos Band's ever-evolving aesthetic. "We sound nothing like our first record anymore," confirms Profilio. Anyone content to just slap the old "Staten Island Afro-soul" tag on Burnt Offering and move on clearly didn't listen to the music first.

The group composed more than two dozen songs in the course of making Burnt Offering, yet only recorded fifteen, further distilling its essence to ten classic cuts for the full-length release. If a new tune failed to capture the rambunctious energy of their live show, if it revised familiar territory or obvious influences, it got cut. Budos was determined to break new ground. "If any band says that's easy to do, they're fooling themselves—and not writing good enough songs," insists Brenneck.

In order to reach the apex of the mountain, the band had to come together like never before. Always a brotherhood, the time spent writing and recording Burnt Offerings saw changes that many bands would have run from, but for the Budos presented opportunities to hone their craft. "Making this record reaffirmed that we work together really well," says Profilio.

Burnt Offering breaks from Budos' earlier records in another significant regard: this is their first album without an outside producer. "We had arrived at a different place sonically and needed see it through completely ourselves," says Tankel. They still praise Daptone mastermind Gabriel Roth, who worked alongside Brenneck co-producing their first three records, but parting ways at this juncture made sense.

"We know exactly where we're at," says Profilio. "We didn't want to have to explain ourselves if we were in pursuit of a specific sound or vibe."

"We made the demo that got us picked up by Daptone in my parents’ basement when I was eighteen years old," Brenneck recalls. "This album is a continuation of that, fifteen years later … with a lot more records under our belts."

After all that time, Budos has become more than a band—it's a brotherhood. "This is a real family band," says Brenneck. "Guys who've been making music for a long time, and friendships that run completely parallel to the music." They still rehearse religiously almost every week, even if some of those rehearsals encompass just as much drinking, socializing, and listening to music as actual practice.

That camaraderie doesn't evaporate when they put their instruments down. On tour, they hit a brewery or pub for lunch en masse before sound check whenever possible, and like to stir up trouble. There are dust-ups and reconciliations. All that kinship comes to a head when they hit the stage. “We’ve seen some things out there that most bands don’t get a glimpse of these days,” suggests Tankel. “All of that craziness just brings us closer together. We couldn’t shake each other if we tried.”

And capturing the intensity of Budos' electrifying shows on wax, making the grooves vibrate with excitement, was one of the biggest challenges of Burnt Offering. "We record live to tape, with minimal effects," Brenneck says. Nowhere to hide, then. The band insisted that each song push the envelope. No room for filler.

The Budos have traveled far and wide—playing across four continents—since the band’s inception. A lifetime of world tours and weekly rehearsals went into the making of Burnt Offering, and the journey is far from over. As long as there are new audiences to thrill and sonic frontiers to explore, they'll forge ahead. "We haven't fulfilled our mission," concludes Profilio. "We're still very hungry."
Venue Information:
Apollo Theater
253 West 125th Street
New York, NY, 10027
http://www.apollotheater.org/