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April 15, 2014 at 10:00 AM

The Afghan Whigs step back into the light | Concert preview

The Afghan Whigs

The Afghan Whigs perform live Tuesday at Seattle’s Showbox club. Photo by Piper Ferguson.

When The Times last spoke with Greg Dulli two years ago, The Afghan Whigs main man teased about the possibility of new material from his revitalized band.

“If there’s something to say later,” he’d said, “I’m sure we’ll say it.”

There was — and they have.

“Do to the Beast,” their first LP since 1998, hits stores Tuesday — with a celebratory Showbox gig that night. Envelope-pushing live shows have been the group’s trademark since the 1990s.

Back then, The Afghan Whigs were a band without a country, hailing from a musical backwater, Cincinnati, and borrowing just as much from soul and R&B as classic rock and hardcore punk.

“And Prince,” adds Dulli, during a recent follow-up interview. “Bro, I’ve been ripping off Prince for 25 years.”

The group used its non-conformist streak to its advantage. Seminal work like 1993’s distraught “Gentlemen” and 1996’s menacing “Black Love” occupied grunge’s periphery — or, perhaps more accurately, its underbelly.

Citing exhaustion, they disbanded in 2001, but a wildly successful 2012 reunion tour awoke a sleeping giant — and “Beast” proves that the time off didn’t dull their edge.

Although Dulli is 48 now, he skews younger on hot-blooded tracks like “Matamoros,” contorting his voice into a hair-raising falsetto that would make his hero Prince proud.

“That one was a ball-grabber,” he laughs over the phone. “Let’s see if I can pull it off live!”

And while the absence of lead guitarist and co-founder Rick McCollum is felt — “he’s working some stuff out” is all the frontman will say — it’s not a deal-breaker.

Instead of replacing their longtime bandmate, Dulli and bassist John Curley enlisted, as needed, “a coterie of guitar players [we’ve] appreciated over the years.”

Cameos from members of Chavez and Squirrel Bait offer intrigue for punk types, but the biggest assist comes from a younger, lesser-known figure, Mark McGuire.

The Cleveland native, a practitioner of loop-based guitar music, appears on half the album — including single and standout “The Lottery,” below — and his chemistry with the band is electric.

McGuire’s 2010 LP “Living With Yourself,” explains Dulli, “was a record I listened to obsessively. We started working together immediately after we met, and he has a standing invitation to play with me for the rest of my life.”

For having always embraced the spotlight, it’s interesting that Dulli spends most of our conversation talking about other artists — those he’s worked with, and those he’d like to.

Among the names that come up is Sun Kil Moon songsmith Mark Kozelek, whose Ohio roots and current late-career resurgence run parallel to his.

“I don’t know [Kozelek],” Dulli says, “but I’m a big fan. I’ve followed him since [his previous project] Red House Painters, and his new record [“Benji”] is one of the best he’s done. If I ever met him, I’d ask him to record with me.”

It’d have to wait until 2015, however, as The Afghan Whigs plan to tour all year.

Beyond that, well — knowing Dulli — if it feels good, it’ll happen.

8 p.m. Tuesday at The Showbox, 1426 1st Ave., Seattle; $31.50 to $37 (206-628-3151 or showboxpresents.com)

Comments | More in Rock/Pop | Topics: Ohio, Showbox, Sub Pop

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