Live Concert Photography: The Afghan Whigs with Built to Spill at The Vic Theatre, Chicago 4/12/18
Last month, I was in Chicago to attend a major conference related to my day job and I decided to show up a few days before the conference to see some friends and associates and catch as much live music as I could in one of the country’s great music cities. And as you can imagine, the people I saw were incredibly hospitable, taking me to some of their favorite places, introducing me to locals, giving me rides and buying a beer or two, and I had some profound late night conversations about music, art and politics. Along with that, I had some great meals — goddamn, Chicago thin crust pizza, Chicago style hot dogs and Italian Beef are so fucking awesome. I’m planning a return trip to do what I do best — eat all the food, drink all the beer and see all the music.
If you follow me through my various social media accounts, you may recall that last month I was in Chicago to attend a major conference for my day job — and that while I was there, I caught up with some friends and associates, met some long-time blog contacts that I hadn’t had the chance to met before my trip. For the most part I had some fantastic meals and saw some incredible live music, including the Cincinnati, OH-based, JOVM mainstay act The Afghan Whigs play at Chicago’s The Vic Theatre with the Boise, ID-based indie darlings Built to Spill . Now, as you may recall, The Afghan Whigs, which are currently comprised of founding members Greg Dulli (guitar, vocals) and John Curley (bass) along with Dave Rosser (guitar), Jon Skibic (guitar), multi-instrumentalist Rick Nelson and Cully Symington (drums) can trace its origins to when its founding trio of Dulli, Curley and Steve Earle (drums) founded the band back in 1986, after the breakup of Dulli’s previous band The Black Republicans.
The Afghan Whigs have the distinction of being one of the first bands that Sub Pop Records signed outside of the Pacific Northwest, and interestingly, they are one of the most critically applauded yet unheralded bands of the 90s with 1993’s Gentlemen landing at number 17 on The Village Voice‘s Pazz and Jop critics list and 1996’s Black Love, landing at number 79 on the Billboard Top 200 — all while going through several lineup changes. After the band’s initial breakup back in 2001, the members of the band naturally went on with other creative and personal pursuits: in particular, Greg Dulli famously collaborated with Mark Lanegan in The Gutter Twins and The Twilight Singers, as well as a lengthy list of contemporary artists.
Unsurprisingly, the members of the band would occasionally reunite for one-off shows and festival sets; however, it sparked their most recent reunion and 2014’s Do To The Beast, which marked both the band’s first proper release in over 16 years and the band’s return to their original label home Sub Pop Records. Thematically, lyrically, and sonically speaking, the album was sort of a triumphant return to form, a subtle expansion of the sound and lyrical content that won them attention; in fact, the album was primarily centered around Dulli’s long-held obsessions with death, fucked up and dysfunctional relationships, sex and so on. In Spades, the band’s second post-reunion album and eighth overall was produced by Greg Dulli and it finds the band emphasizing a decidedly populist, arena rock-friendly sensibility, centered around enormous hooks while retaining the dark, seductive, urgent feel of their previous work as you’d hear on album single “Arabian Heights.” However, some of the album’s material reveals a rather direct and straightforward, classic soul influence — in particular “Demon In Profile,” and “Oriole.” As Greg Dulli said in press notes at the time. “It’s a spooky record. I like that it’s veiled. It’s not a concept album per se, but as I began to assemble it, I saw an art and followed it. To me, it’s about memory — in particular, how quickly life and memory can blur together.”
Since the release of In Spades, the band’s long-time guitarist Dave Rosser died after a battle with colon cancer, and the remaining members of the band paid a fitting tribute to Rosser with the release of a cover of Pleasure Club‘s “You Want Love,” a track off the New Orleans-based band’s second and final album. As it turns out, Rosser and Dulli had been fans of Pleasure Club, and had talked about wanting to cover the song for years — and although it had quickly become a staple of their live sets last year, they didn’t put it on wax until last July. Of course, the show must go on and the band has continued to tour to support In Spades with a recently finished co-headlining tour with the renowned Boise, ID-based indie rock act Built to Spill that stopped at one of Chicago’s glorious, old theaters, The Vic Theater. While the set focused quite a bit on In Spades, opening with the aforementioned “Arabian Heights,” and featured “Oriole” and “Demon in Profile,” there were nods to Gentlemen with “My Curse” featuring a guest spot from Scrawl‘s Macy Mays and “What Jail Is Like” and Do To The Beast with “The Lottery,” Dulli’s Twilight Singers days with a cover (is it a cover, if it’s the same songwriter?) of “Teenage Wristband,” and a gorgeously moody and soulful cover of Don Henley‘s “The Boys of Summer“(one my favorite Don Henley songs, to boot) to close out the night. Honestly, I’m amazed that I was in that old theater to see it, myself. Check out photos from the show below.
Founded by Doug Martsch (guitar, vocals) back in 1992, along with Brett Netson and Ralf Youtz, Bartsch initially intended for the Boise, ID-based Built to Spill to regularly change lineups every album or so with himself being the only permanent member with the band’s first batch of releases following that model — after 1993’s Ultimate Alternative Waivers, Netson and Youtz were released by Brett Nelson and Andy Capps for 1994’s There’s Nothing Wrong With Love. Martsch followed that up with a compilation album, The Normal Years, which included material by both lineups and a 1995 compilation EP with the members of Caustic Resin, Built to Spill Caustic Resin; however, the band received national attention with a spot on 1995’s Lollapalooza tour, and with “Still Flat,” their contribution to the AIDS benefit compilation album Red Hot + Bothered. With growing buzz around them, Martsch signed to Warner Brothers in 1995, and unlike most artists signed to major labels, the band brokered a deal that allowed it to retain a large degree of creative control over their releases with the label. Their major label debut, Perfect From Now On featured a lineup consisting of Martsch, Nelson, Netson and Scott Plouf and it was a critical and commercial success what resulted in the band being one of the country’s most recognizable indie/alt rock bands. Before the release of 1999’s critically applauded Keep It Like a Secret, Martsch made Nelson and Plouf permanent members of the band. Martsch and company followed that up with 2000’s Live and 2001’s Ancient Melodies of the Future. Martsch released a blues and folk-inspired solo album Now You Know — and with a solo tour to support it, the band went on a brief hiatus before reconvening to spend the better part of 2003-2005 touring and playing new material, that would eventually comprise 2006’s You in Reverse, an album that featured a lineup of Martsch, Nelson, Plouf and Jim Roth, who spent a stint as a touring guitarist. Brett Netson contributed guitar on several songs and later re-joined the band as a full-time member. 2006 also turned out to be a rather difficult year for the band, as Martsch suffered a detached retina, which required surgery and recovery — and as a result they were forced to miss an appearance at that year’s SXSW and a number of tour dates. Additionally, the band’s former drummer Andy Capps was found dead in his home that May. The rest of their 2006 included several new songs, as well as the dedication of “Car,” to their late, former drummer, who had played on the track. 2009 saw the release of There Is No Enemy, which featured album single “Hindsight,” and was followed with a busy touring schedule throughout the summer and fall of 2009 and much of 2010, including sets at Pitchfork Music Festival and the Matt Groening (yes, that Matt Groening) curated All Tomorrow’s Parties. Adding to a busy year, Martsch made a guest appearance on Brett Nelson’s Electric Anthology Project, a project in which Nelson covers an artist in a synth-pop style, featuring the original vocals. The first EP featured a song from each Built to Spill album, using anagrams of their original titles. By October 2012, the band went through another lineup change with Helvetia and Duster’s Jason Albertini (bass) and Uzala, Brett Netson Band and Atomic Mama’s Stephen Gere (drums) replacing the outgoing Plouf and Nelson. The band continued touring periodically as a quintet but they didn’t release new material for several years, with an album slated for that year being shelved partially because of Nelson and Plouf’s departure and his dissatisfaction with the material. 2015 saw the release of the Bartsch and Sam Coomes co-produced Untethered Moon, an album recorded as a trio featuring Martsch, Albertini, and Gere; in fact, since 2016, the band has toured with that same lineup. Their opening set was a career spanning set that featured crowd pleasers like “Carry the Zero” and the aforementioned “Car,” as well as a cover of The Pretenders‘ “Back on the Chain Gang.”