Mike Doughty @ The El Rey, 4/30/08
Mike Doughty attracts a particular crowd.
They are the kind of people who know how to use the term "irony" correctly. They will dance like your crazy hippie friend did in high school and everyone pointed and laughed but you knew they didn't care because, dammit, they were feeling it and having a good time. They will play vigorous air drums with syncopated head bobs. They cannot get enough of a good thing.
Mike Doughty live is a very good thing. The former Soul Coughing front man and longtime solo act hit the El Rey Wednesday night and treated his LA fans to a mix of old favorites, quirky covers, and selections from his current release, Golden Delicious.
Doughty's voice is as fluid and deep as a radio announcer's, but he can make the scat contemporary or take you on a journey on the wings of just one syllable. Enunciation is key. Never does a "na-na-na" or a "yeah, yeah, yeah" have more meaning than when punctuating one of Doughty's wry and earnest lyrics. A bit like a beat poet with a guitar and a beat box, Doughty's songs have a remarkable timelessness and innate ability to pick you up, drop you in them, and carry you along.
Although he was doing mainly stuff from the new album, which came out February 18th of this year on ATO Records, the crowd clamored for old favorites. Well, the crowd clamored in general, as part of a sort of schtick that's done. You call out a song--one of his, or someone else's--and he responds with a "not tonight" or a "not yet" or, in some cases "definitely not tonight" or ever (sorry fans of "Super Bon Bon"--that would be a "not ever"). I don't think anyone was bold enough to call out for the quintessential Soul Coughing in Los Angeles song (or, arguably, a quintessential Los Angeles song itself) "Screenwriter's Blues" from their 1994 release Ruby Vroom, but that didn't make the cut.
Instead he played tracks such as "27 Jennifers," "Busting Up a Starbucks" "I Just Want the Girl in the Blue Dress to Keep on Dancing," "Put it Down," "I Wrote a Song About Your Car," "Fort Hood," a cover of "The Gambler," and "More Bacon Than the Pan Can Handle," the latter of which uses a sampler gizmo for a portion of the lyrics (and the gal's voice sure sounds a heck of a lot like Roxanne Shante, but is actually Stephanie Beatriz).
But the best was towards the end when he announced in an evangelist's revival meeting frenzy that they were about to play the second to last song, which would be followed by the fake last song, upon which time they would turn their backs to the audience, wait for us to cheer, turn around, and then play exactly two more songs. It's nice to know performers understand how ridiculous the whole "thank you and goodnight!" fake-out before the encore is. Of course, Doughty opened the show by saying "Thank you Los Angeles, you smell great!" so what more could you expect but the unexpected...most expectedly, that is. What? We've digressed, yes. Back to the encore.
Sure enough, things ended exactly as stated, although it was still sad when the lights came up and the crowds moved reluctantly towards the exits after the last song, "Looking at the World From the Bottom of a Well." (Yes, you may have heard it on a little show called Grey's Anatomy.)
The kind of crowd at a Mike Doughty show are the folks who wish the night would never end.
Photos by Lindsay William-Ross/LAist