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Afghan Whigs Heat Up Heights Theater In Long-Overdue Houston Return

Greg Dulli and the Afghan Whigs proved they're no nostalgia act on Thursday.
Greg Dulli and the Afghan Whigs proved they're no nostalgia act on Thursday.
Photo by Violeta Alvarez

Afghan Whigs, Har Mar Superstar
Heights Theater
October 26, 2017

'90s alternative favorites Afghan Whigs performed Thursday night at Heights theater to an eager Houston crowd that often erupted into rousing applause. With the band easily reciprocating the audience's energy, the room crackled with electricity throughout the evening.

Despite breaking up in 2001 and reforming in 2011, Afghan Whigs are no nostalgia act. Sure, they play fan favorites from across the catalog with some dating back to the late '80s, but that hardly translates into a passive, phlegmatic performance.

There are bands whose live shows communicate a magic that no recording studio will ever capture. What transpired last night in Houston was one of those supernatural sets. Calling it their last night of the tour (they’re playing tonight at Voodoo Fest), the Whigs parted ways with their longtime guitar tech and openers Har Mar Superstar, making for one hell of a set culminating a three-song encore.

Bands like the Whigs have the kind of live alchemy no recording studio could ever capture.
Bands like the Whigs have the kind of live alchemy no recording studio could ever capture.
Photo by Violeta Alvarez

There’s much energy to release at the end of a tour for a band like Afghan Whigs. 2017 may have brought their latest release, In Spades, to critical acclaim, but it also brought heartbreak. Losing their guitarist, Dave Rosser, to cancer this past summer, may have changed the lineup, but Thursday's music didn’t lack for his absence.

This performance was one of the best I’ve witnessed from bands I’m guilty of thinking are somehow past their glory days from the '90s. Perhaps nostalgia is a torrid lover. In its best form, it returns emotions and memories we thought were lost to time but tricks us into thinking those days will never return. Afghan Whigs proved me wrong last night.

On the other hand, openers Har Mar Superstar demonstrate new music’s alchemy is a powerful brew. Don’t be fooled by his appearance; lead singer Sean Tillmann and his band of “Personal Boys” may have been the surprise hit of the evening. While Houston's fans may have packed Toyota Center for Bruno Mars earlier this week, the real talent was a balding Jewish guy stripping down to his Calvin’s and doing headstands mid-song.

Proving that sexiness is state of mind, Tilmann’s shows are unlike anything else in popular music. With an angelic voice whose vocal acuity could go note-to-note against Justin Timberlake (yes, you read that correctly) Tilmann is an R&B boy-band reject trapped in a body of a middle-aged man who looks more like he’d sell you a used car than serenade you with sexually explicit songs.

Thursday's crowd remembered when the Heights was a scary place to be after dark.
Thursday's crowd remembered when the Heights was a scary place to be after dark.
Photo by Violeta Alvarez

If hilariously repulsive yet sonically gorgeous is his schtick, it works, oddly enough. And for an opening act, this Houston audience was fully invested. Yet, what sets Tillman apart from some sleazy, lounge-singer parody are his gifted vocals. The man’s ability and control of octaves and timbre is simply astounding.

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The Crowd: Think Emo’s in the early '90s: lots of faces familiar with the Houston when the Heights was a scary place to be after dark and Beltway 8 wasn’t even a complete loop. There’s an easy, familiar camaraderie in faces you recognize from your formative years, even of you can’t remember what the hell their name is.

Overheard In the Crowd: “Well, at least Greg looks like one of us.” If that statement meant what I think it did — appearing like an average, middle-aged white guy — it’s true. Without a spotlight and guitar Dulli looks like he could either tell you exactly what to expect from your mutual fund in 20 years or volunteer to coach youth sports at the Y. With a microphone, he may still look middle-aged, but when that voice rips through waves of bluesy grunge, who cares? Not this listener.

Random Notebook Dump: Har Mar Superstar’s set is exactly what Paul Simon does in the bathroom mirror when alone.

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