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Pinch hitters

The Afghan Whigs revisit their illustrious past



'We got called; off the bench," says Greg Dulli. "We were able to hit, get on base, and score."

Afghan Whigs frontman Greg Dulli is explaining the band's resurrection from a 12-year hiatus, a reunion sparked by a last-minute need to replace Guided by Voices on this year's I'll Be Your Mirror festival bill.

Scoring has always been one of Dulli's specialties. While they came of age alongside Nirvana, the Cincinnati sextet is, at heart, an ersatz soul band whose lounge lizard frontman tends to wear his predatory hungers and intimacy issues on his sleeve: "Ladies let me introduce myself," he sings on "Be Sweet" from the Afghan Whigs' 1993 breakthrough album Gentlemen. "I got a dick for a brain and my brain is going to sell my ass to you."

Dulli's conclusion — "she wants love and I just want to fuck" — isn't exactly a novel revelation, but he delivers it with the brash, biting indifference of one who knows better. This ugly side is echoed by guitarist Rick McCollum's scabrous, slashing lead, its terse angularity contrasting the simmering late-night groove. It's a dispiriting but starkly honest tune.

"I have always done an amplified version of myself, which is what a performer does," Dulli says. "They're all just snapshots from your life."

And they're not all pretty. "There are many aspects to one's psyche," says the songwriter. "It's how you manage the different parts of yourself. Keeping the homicidal maniac inside you in check. Not everyone wants to go write In Cold Blood, but everyone wants to read it."

Despite two new tracks on the Whigs' 2007 retrospective, Unbreakable — and two more on their website earlier this year — the current tour is most likely a one-off. For Dulli, there are simply other options.

Twilight Singers — the dusky atmospheric offshoot band he formed after the Whigs' 2001 breakup — has a similarly slithering and shadowy bar-closing vibe, but isn't as noisy or tumultuous, preferring slow-build cinematic soundscapes.

And then there's his project with Screaming Trees survivor Mark Lanegan, the Gutter Twins, who released their Saturnalia debut in 2008: "Mark is one of the best friends I've ever had," he says, "and one of the kindest, funniest and most intelligent people I know. He's a gas."

The renewed interest in returning acts like the Afghan Whigs, Mission of Burma, Dinosaur Jr. and the Pixies makes sense to Dulli.

"If you build a house that's built to last, people are maybe going to want to go in and take a look at the architecture, revisit it, and be a part of it," he says. "For myself as a writer of the material, it's been a fabulous journey through my illustrious past. We've gone pretty deep in the catalog and are playing songs that we never even played when we were first us."

Of course, the musical landscape has changed dramatically since the Whigs last walked the earth. In many ways, it's harder to be a band and make a living, even for those without as rich a legacy as Dulli's. But it's those very challenges, he believes, that make great bands.

"You've got to shake it off. It's the law of the jungle. Survival of the fittest. It's Darwinism!

"I didn't make the rules," he adds with a chuckle. "I just work 'em — or work around 'em."

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