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Afghan Whigs' Greg Dulli on expectations, merging old and new, ahead of NYC shows

The Afghan Whigs get set for their biggest

The Afghan Whigs get set for their biggest New York show ever and their classic “Gentlemen” album turning 21. Pictured: Bassist John Curley, left, guitarist Dave Rosser, drummer Cully Symington, multi-instrumentalist Rick Nelson, singer-guitarist Greg Dulli, guitarist Jon Skibic. Credit: Piper Ferguson

Greg Dulli has always been a man of contradictions.

The Afghan Whigs frontman has used his sweet, soulful voice to sing some dark, nasty things. He's an alternative-rock pioneer who will happily spend an afternoon talking about his beloved Cincinnati Reds. He's a lover and a fighter.

And when it came time for the reunited Afghan Whigs to record "Do to the Beast" (Sub Pop), the band's first album in 16 years, Dulli had to deal with conflicting impulses again.

"The people who like me, they like hearing all of it -- the new stuff, the old stuff," says Dulli, calling from his home in Los Angeles. "I've always felt very confident going out with a new record because the people who like my songs are open-minded and ready to hear what kind of crazy [expletive] I've come up with this time."

That support has emboldened him to keep taking chances. "I've said this for a long time: Expectations are a prison," Dulli says. "If you allow yourself to play into that and be afraid of it or let it daunt you, then you failed before you began. You have to jump off the cliff and know that the water is deep enough to hold you."

However, he also takes that fan support very seriously. "I play for my rep every time I go out," he says. "Whatever my band is called, if I'm in it, I'm giving you the best I got. This is a continuation of that ideal to me."

"Do to the Beast" is a fascinating continuation of the Whigs' legacy. There aren't a lot of moments that hark back to their '90s heyday -- though there is an unmistakable Whigs-ian moment in the middle of "Lost in the Woods" where the way Dulli sings "baby" meets John Curley's bass line that immediately sends us all back 20 years.

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Instead of looking back, the reunited Whigs were looking ahead. "I was trying to find sounds I liked wherever I would find them," Dulli says. "These were new things for me, like trying on a new set of clothes. I've tried to do that all my life. I think I've hit more of the bull's-eye than I have in a long time."

Those shots come from a wide variety of angles, from the spaghetti Western feel of "Algiers" to the EDM dance party that ends the wrenching "Can Rova." Despite the different genres, Dulli says they all converge into the Whigs' sound.

"The new songs integrate well into the set," he says, adding that by the time the tour reaches the Beacon Theatre next Saturday, the fit will be even tighter. The addition of Joseph Arthur -- the singer-songwriter who also has one of the year's best albums with "Lou" (Vanguard), his tribute to the work of his friend the late Lou Reed -- will make the tour even more special, Dulli says.

"I chose Joe for numerous reasons, and hijacking him into my group was one of them," he says. "Joe's presence will change the shows. His personality looms that large."

Arthur says he didn't need much convincing to sign on as the tour's opener and occasional Afghan Whigs member. "He played me the whole record when I was in L.A. -- we just went driving in his car," says Arthur, who sings on "Can Rova." "It was great. He played me the whole record at crazy loud volumes. It was a pretty amazing way to hear it, though."

Dulli says having Arthur on the road with the band will make touring a little more bearable. "Flying has just become altogether more traumatic for me than it used to be," he says. "It's just such a dog-and-pony show now. I have already flown 65,000 miles this year. That's 27 different airports. I get sick to my stomach when I'm rolling up to an airport now. You just know you're going to get stuck. That it's just going to be bad.

"That said," he continues, "playing concerts? Still one of my favorite things to do. If you gotta go through that to get to the other thing, so be it."

WHO Afghan Whigs

WHEN|WHERE 8 p.m. next Saturday, Beacon Theatre, Manhattan; and 8 p.m. next Sunday, Music Hall of Williamsburg, Brooklyn

INFO $21-$60; 800-745-3000, ticketmaster.com

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'Gentlemen,' start your celebration

It is only fitting that the Afghan Whigs waited until their landmark album, "Gentlemen," turned 21 before they celebrated it.

After all, few albums can match "Gentlemen" as a document of what it means to be a man -- for better or worse. Even fewer can match what it says about being a man with a broken heart.

"Like no record before or since, 'Gentlemen' is fraught with the psychological warfare, bedroom drama, Catholic guilt, reprehensible deception and uncleansable shame that coincide with relationships gone seriously wrong," author Bob Gendron writes in his 2008 book, "Gentlemen," about the making of the album. "Its seemingly thick skin is rife with argument, infection, claustrophobia, temptation, accusation, illness, addiction, blood, scourge and spite."

For his part, Whigs singer Greg Dulli is content to let the music -- the potent combination of grunge guitars and soulful vocals -- speak for itself. He has never been one to discuss his private life or the heartbreak that fueled rage-filled classics like "Debonair" and "What Jail Is Like."

Part of the brilliance of "Gentlemen" is that it is almost impossible to determine in the songs where the real Dulli ends and where the fictional "Dulli" -- the hardhearted, conniving playboy -- begins. The controversial album art, which shows a boy and a girl in a bed, reflects both the idea that in breakups both parties often end up acting like children, as well as the possibility that the battle between the sexes starts that early.

To commemorate "Gentlemen," the 21st anniversary of the album's release on Elektra Records on Oct. 5, 1993, the band will play a special concert at the Music Hall of Williamsburg on Oct. 5. They also will release "Gentlemen at 21" (Rhino) on Oct. 28, a new collection of the original album, the demos, the B-sides from the singles and live versions of "What Jail Is Like" and "Now You Know."

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