Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Thank You Lord, For Sending Me the F Train

Lady Trail and the man she's been chasing for over two years, Mr. Mike Doughty.

As I reach a certain age, I find I've grown more selective in the types of situations I put myself in, especially when it comes to concerts. I'm 30 years old now, I don't need to push my way to the front row of the stage. If I can find a stool in a cormer with a clear line of sight, fine by me.

Despite this, standing around was exactly what I was doing on Sunday night at the Blind Pig in Ann Arbor, waiting for Mike Doughty and his band to take the stage. It could be no other way.

Lady Trail has a passion for Doughty that borders on the religious: watching her ready herself in a nearby parking garage was certainly a ceremonial procedure. She'd waited over two years to see him perform again, bringing her career total to four. Her devotion is total, her dedication monastic: when a drunk girl tried to drag her six-foot-plus paramour to the front of the stage in a move that would have blocked the view of not only the Lady but at least ten others...let's say the drunk girl never stood a chance.

Continue reading this entry, and see videos from the show.

Yet I was no dragged along escort on this show, Windsor. I consider myself a fan of the man on the marquee as well, centered on his time fronting tripped out alt-jazz-rock quartet Soul Coughing, best remembered for their mid-sized hit 'Circles'. In the years following the band's sudden 2000 breakup, Doughty kicked a heroin addiction, and took to the road on solo tours and recording EPs of stripped down acoustic music; combining Mary J. Blige covers with new songs that abandoned the random, found-poetry scat of Soul Coughing in favour of a more focused, yet no more traditional lyrical approach.

In 2005 Doughty shocked his fans again by signing to Dave Matthews' ATO Records and releasing Haughty Melodic, a slickly produced album filled with folky, beat driven songs backed by a full band, a mode he continued in with 2008's Golden Delicious.

Given the multiple twists Doughty's career has taken, it's never for certain what path he'll go down during a performance. With a band of musicians he's played with for years, one gets the impression the setlist could be switched on the fly and the audience would be none the wiser. Unfortunately, such skill leads some audience members to treat the show like request hour, shouting out the songs they want to hear at every pause in the performance.

Doughty bantered with these types, but was obviously not interested in playing busker, dismissing one request for an early Soul Coughing song with a curt, 'Oh, fuck "Screenwriter's Blues".'

Not that he was out to ignore his past: the set contained more old songs that I was expecting, including 'Circles' and fan faves 'Janine' and 'St. Louise is Listening'. The Lady mused post-show if Doughty played the songs out of obligation to his audience. I'll agree he looked more excited when playing newer songs [which fared much better in a live setting than on a heavily produced album] but he never gave me the impression he felt duty bound to play his older work. He looked like a man who's come to terms with the weighty legacy of his old band and plays the songs like 'Soft Serve' because dammit, it's a good song [see video].

Doughty comes off very laid back on stage, just a guy playing a rock show. Things like a broken string, which could be disastrous in such a setting, were no big deal for him, chatting with his band and the crowd as he replaced and tuned the fresh string. He knew we weren't going anywhere, so he took the time needed to ensure a quality show.

Despite my preference for his older material, I found the show's highlights to be a pair from his latest effort. 'More Bacon than the Pan can Handle' found Doughty trading his guitar for a sample deck, mixing live over a tight drum groove [see video]. 'Fort Hood', named for the US military base that's lost the most soldiers in the Iraq War, brought the show to an early transcendent peak, with the full band and everyone in the crowd singing out the song's 'Hair'-inspired chorus of 'Let the sun shine in.' Including me. Other songs might have been more fan-favourite, but in that moment I looked at all the band members and the people around me, and was reminded how something as simple as a song can affect people in such beautiful ways.

Any show that can remind me of that was easily worth the 15 bucks.


Performing a medley of Soul Coughing's 'Sleepless' and 'Soft Serve'.

Performing 'More Bacon than the Pan can Handle'.


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