concert reviews

Mike Doughty at the Black Cat, Washington, DC, Saturday 13 March 2004

After Soul Coughing broke up in 2000, former frontman Mike Doughty struck out alone, playing most of his shows unaccompanied. On Saturday night his offbeat lyrics and bouncing guitar filled the Black Cat, in front of a rowdy capacity crowd.

Unlike other singer-songwriters, Doughty neither sings melodically nor strums smoothly. At the Black Cat, he played his guitar like a percussion instrument, filling the room and making up for the absence of other instruments. He used his voice to massage his lyrics, often repeating a line such as "all them tremendous brunettes around" over and over again with slightly different intonation each time. With enough repetitions, the words lost all meaning and the rhythmic vocals became an auditory accompaniment to his guitar.

Doughty mixed a few diverse covers into his set, from the tenderly affectionate "Book of Love" by Magnetic Fields to a few lines from Snoop Dogg's "Gin and Juice." And although he paused between songs to give a little bit of quirky political advice ("When you go to the polls this November, vote for the boring man; don't vote for the evil man!"), for the most part his set flowed seamlessly from one tune to the next.

The only major drawback to the night was an unusually chatty audience. Except when singing along or shouting out requests, the crowd continued its rumbling throughout the set. Doughty didn't miss a beat; instead, after retreating to the back of the stage to "pretend the show [was] over," he returned to guide fans through a final, raucous singalong to the Soul Coughing song "Janine."

-- Catherine P. Lewis

.: Originally published: The Washington Post, 15 March 2004