Mike Doughty | Electric Ballroom, Camden | 8 October 2015
Mike Doughty slips onto the stage. His head bowed, he slowly paces up and down, still largely unnoticed while the band set up around him. But as the commotion of preparation dies down and he strides up to the microphone, Doughty transforms from nondescript tall man in a hat to bonafide frontman.
That shouldn’t come as a surprise. In the 15 years since splitting Soul Coughing, Doughty has carved out a career as a solo performer able to command an audience with little more than an acoustic guitar. By now, dominating a stage comes naturally — even if his backing musicians are Wheatus, tonight’s headline act.
Literally conducting the musicians with hand gestures, he launches straight into ‘Light Will Keep Your Heart Beating in the Future’. The hip-hop infused first track of his latest album, ‘Stellar Motel’, loses a mandolin but retains its killer groove and gains a full-blooded performance from an intense Doughty. The mood lightens on the jaunty ‘Put It Down’, from 2008’s ‘Golden Delicious’, even as the bespectacled performer continues to alternate effortlessly between caramel-smooth singing and rapid-fire vocal punches.
He straps on a guitar for a brooding take on Soul Coughing’s ‘St Louise Is Listening’, the song emboldened by the passage of time, Doughty’s voice sounding richer and more engaging than it does on the 1998 original. From the group’s 21-year-old debut album, ‘Ruby Vroom’, the seductive ‘True Dreams Of Wichita’ is even older but feels genuinely fresh, especially when Doughty goes full MC during the mid-song breakdown.
The sunny ‘Raging On’ brings us bang up to date, the singer’s gentle delivery boosted by the backing vocals of Wheatus’ Gabrielle Sterbenz, before a third new song, the joyous ‘When The Night Is Long’, raises the BPM factor and the hands of the Electric Ballroom crowd. It’s a suitably rousing finale for a too-short set from a charismatic performer who, in the space of 35 minutes, has seduced with his songs and his speeches. “You people are so sexy, I’m in pain,” he deadpans at one point, shortly after declaring that he has 35, not 34 or 36, PhDs. As unlikely as it sounds, you can’t help but believe him.