No pigeonholes for the Afghan Whigs

February 18, 1999|By J.D. Considine | J.D. Considine,Sun Pop Music Critic

When Afghan Whigs bassist John Curley was a kid, he wasn't into any specific style of music. What he liked were specific groups.

"I grew up in D.C. and would listen to the Top-40 AM radio," says the 34-year-old musician. "You would hear the Supremes or Marvin Gaye or something like that, and then two songs down the line, you might hear 'Sweet Home Alabama' or 'Don't Fear the Reaper.' So there was a lot of stuff to choose from, and thankfully, nobody told me, 'You gotta pick one.' "

So Curley didn't discriminate. "I liked Blue Oyster Cult, and I liked Earth, Wind and Fire," he says. "It wasn't until years later that the powers that be, in their infinite wisdom, split everything up onto separate channels."

Not wanting to split things into separate channels goes a long way toward explaining the sound of the Afghan Whigs. Although the Cincinnati-based quartet began its recording career at Sub-Pop Records, the label that first unleashed grunge on an unsuspecting world, the Whigs have always had strong R&B roots.

Curley admits those roots weren't especially obvious on the band's first recordings, made when Curley, singer Greg Dulli and guitarist Rick McCollum were in their early 20s. (Drummer Michael Horrigan joined the band last year.) At that age, he says, "you pretty much want to just rock hard and loud and fast. That's what feels good, and it helps cover up for the fact that you might not be able to play really great."

By contrast, the band's current album, "1965," boasts a full complement of R&B accouterments, from blaring horns to soulful backup singers. That's not to say that the band is trying for outright imitation of vintage soul sounds; rather, what it really wants is a fusion of the sort of elements Curley and the others heard on the radio as kids.

It's not an easy balance to strike. "I know we can sound like Blue Oyster Cult. It takes a little more work to sound like Earth, Wind and Fire," he says, laughing.

"But I think we can be both," he adds. "In the shows that we've played with the horn section, there were moments there that I thought were as good as anything I've listened to on record. Maybe better, because I was getting to do it."

Pulling diverse elements together is part of "1965" on a lyrical level, as well. "Greg and I were both born in '65, and Rick was born in '64," says Curley. The songs on the album, he explains, derive from the band's need to look at "where we came from . . . more than just musically."

"We're trying to include things like the sexual revolution, the civil rights movement, the movement of technology," says Curley. "We're just trying to look at how those things worked on us as people, and then -- in a larger sense -- how being those people made us what we are today as a band."

Afghan Whigs

When: Wednesday, 9 p.m. (doors open at 8 p.m.)

Where: Bohager's, Fleet and Eden Streets

Tickets: $15

Call: 410-563-7220 for information, 410-481-7328 for tickets

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