As we all hunker down for serious eating, drinking and football, here’s a quick Thanksgiving story with a lesson. On Thanksgiving night 1997, the Afghan Whigs played a remarkable show at the Howlin’ Wolf. For the occasion, Greg Dulli had added Henry Butler, Roderick Paulin and a few more locals to augment the band, which promised a greater emphasis on the Whigs’ soul fascination. That suspicion was furthered when the pre-set music – Prince – kept going for over an hour.
Highlights of the Afghan Whigs’ set were released as a five-song bonus EP with 1965, and the show and EP open with Curtis Mayfield’s “(If There’s Hell Below) We’re All Going to Go” and as good as it sounds on the CD, it was devastating in the room – horns blaring, and Greg Dulli looked like he’d given up his complicated relationship with honor and debauchery, and dignity and degradation. He looked like he’d gone native, and chosen indulgence at every turn. He was red-eyed, and he made no attempt to make the show about the band. It was all about him, and Butler and the Paulins were his guests, not the band’s. His ego was indulged as they played other soul covers including a segue of “Superstition” into “Going to Town,” and his pretensions were accommodated with the rough cross hung behind the stage wrapped with Christmas lights.
The show went on forever, and songs often dragged on beyond productive lengths. At 2:30 in the morning, I couldn’t hang anymore and left having outlasted most of the crowd. I don’t know anybody who saw the show to the end, but the over-the-top length only contributed to the beauty of the show. Even when the show hit lulls, it was interesting as Dulli committed himself 100 percent to self-indulgence. Self-indulgence gets a bad rap, but really, the problem comes from not being indulgent enough. Long guitar solos suck not because they’re extreme but because they’re not extreme enough, hamstrung by blues scales and/or the melody instead of genuinely exploring a thought. Dulli’s decision to embrace the abyss was always engaging, and as we all sit down to eat Thanksgiving dinner, we should remember his lesson. Mere overeating is a cliche; if you’re going to go beyond sensible boundaries, overshoot them by miles, not feet.