Mike Doughty – Rochester – Milestones, NY – 2005-05-08

Mike Doughty
Where: Rochester – Milestones, NY.

When: 2005-05-08

Mike Doughty has made Rochester a regular stopping point on his last several solo tours, including some that didn’t even accompany a release. I’m not sure why the former frontman of Soul Coughing has found such a fanbase in this small upstate New York city, but Milestones was packed beyond belief for his show. It was easily double capacity, with no room to breathe among the packed fans, and I had vivid images of the chaos that would ensue should a White Snake-like fire strike the bar.

The crowd was extremely eclectic. I stood next to an old man who looked like a biker and behind three obvious just-turned-21 fratboys. Doughty himself commented on all the hippies in one area – which he dubbed the Hippie Alcove – and I was amused that one guy dancing more voraciously than most immediately made his way over there after hearing that’s where his kind was stationed. There were young people and old, and yet for the size of the crowd, the people were surprisingly apathetic. Sure, they cheered loud enough, and several shouted out Soul Coughing song titles, but few knew the words to his songs, especially from his latest album Haughty Melodic, and few danced or even bobbed their heads.

I guess that leads to my biggest complaint with Doughty’s show. Soul Coughing was an upbeat, fun, energetic set of hip-hop and rock mashed together. Doughty’s solo material is much quieter, combining the barest elements of hip-hop with more folk-influenced acoustic guitar material. In his between-song banter, he himself dubbed it “small rock,” which is suitable since the stage held only Doughty and his keyboard/organist “Handsome Dan.” The playlist was heavy on the more mellow materials, primarily from his latest release, and I would have loved to have been sitting comfortably at a table or even on the floor to enjoy his songs. But mashed up in tight confines, I felt like I should have been seeing a band like White Snake rather than a more mellow acoustic musician.

But Doughty played a respectable set, featuring highlights from Skittish and his EP Rockity Roll as well as two older and slower Soul Coughing songs, including “Janine,” probably the highlight of the whole show. He also focused on some of Haughty Melodic‘s more mediocre tracks, but then the show was in support of the new release, so it had to be the focus. Everyone just wanted one or two more Skittish tracks at the least, perhaps the more upbeat Soul Coughing song or two at most.

Oddly enough, the most popular song – at least by crowd reaction – was Doughty’s completely unironic cover of Kenny Rogers’ “The Gambler.” Most of the crowd sang along with the timeless chorus, but I was surprised by a few people turning to their friends and asking what song it was. Even next to the old biker, I felt very old.

Doughty is an excellent frontman, even supporting essentially just himself. He never paused to tune one of his several guitars, instead taking time between songs to acknowledge audience members and their shouted requests, comment on the crowd, and offer to talk about whatever the fans wanted. Perhaps they had too much alcohol for a Sunday night, but the listeners had trouble catching on to his recurring “Victory” cry, accompanied by a lilting keyboard effect, even by the end of the night and a dozen or so repetitions. Doughty left and came back quickly for his encore, a fact I highly admire, and said he’d be by the merch table after the show to sign albums or chat with people, something extremely rare even with the most indie of bands. You have to admire an artist who’s able to appeal to so many and still relate to his fans.

Still, it was a nice show, and Doughty puts on an excellent affair, drumming out his guitar chords to provide all the percussion he needed and getting an extra flair from the organ on most songs. The Soul Coughing songs were treats, and his own more introspective and emotionally charged songs were perfectly rendered, with excellent sound quality. Other than the fact that he’s grown too popular for such a mid-sized bar, it was a fun show, and I figure I’ll have to check him out again, because he’s sure to be back.