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To the uninitiated, former Soul Coughing frontman Mike Doughty is a wordsmith known for stringing together multi-syllabic words with the dexterity and flow of a rapper. Over the course of a 20-year career, he’s managed to eke out a career by appealing to jam band fans and indie rockers alike. By adding an interactive aspect to his live show (for the past few years, Doughty and his sharp-witted cello-playing sidekick Scrap have answered questions that audience members put in a Question Jar during the show), Doughty has upped the ante. Last night’s concert in front of a capacity crowd at Music Box Supper Club combined elements of spoken word, music and comedy. The format enabled Doughty to exhibit his incredible wit and righteous sense of humor.
While Doughty started the show on acoustic guitar, he switched to electric bass for a rearranged rendition of the Soul Coughing tune “Janine” and kept the bass strapped on for “These Are Your Friends,” a song that began with a repetitive refrain that Doughty was somehow able to make sound particularly deep and meaningful. The ominous sounding cello riff magnified the song’s somber sound. Doughty then lightened up, strapping on a banjo for “Light Will Keep Your Heart Beating in the Future” and the undulating “Ossining.” He adroitly attached a snippet of “Sleepless” to the Soul Coughing tune “Vegetable” and then closed the first of two sets with a one-two punch, delivering spirited renditions of “27 Jennifers” and “Unsingable Name,” the latter of which benefited from the coincidental crash of dishes in the kitchen.
The second set started strong with “(I Keep On) Rising Up.” Doughty took up a strange looking synth box that looked like it was nothing more than a power strip for “Lazybones” and then strapped on an acoustic guitar for the Soul Coughing tune “Super Bon Bon.” The two-song encore featured “Train to Chicago” and “Looking at the World from the Bottom of a Well.” Doughty’s days of playing avant grade jazz with Soul Coughing might be over, but the duo format provides him with the kind of flexibility he needs to show off his quirky sensibilities. And the Question Jar yielded wildly unpredictable results as Doughty alternately answered questions about his favorite Saturday morning cartoons and declined various requests for cover songs, all the while offering up off-the-cuff answers that were often hilarious.