Smofe + Smang: Live in Minneapolis
It's hard to say exactly when indie rock changed its mind about stage presence. Chalk it up to electronica crossover or the cocky energy unleashed by New Rock bands like the Strokes, but these days, concertgoers arrive at a club expecting some bang for their ticket-buying buck. For vast parts of the Nineties, though, a "show" was anything but. Overt displays of charisma, choreography, or good humor were sure signs that someone was trying too hard.
In those dark days of "keeping it about the music," Mike Doughty and his band Soul Coughing were happy exceptions. Throughout the late Nineties, Doughty and Co. brought levity and--sin of all sins--energy to live concerts, augmenting their raspy-voiced alt-rock hip hop with light shows, dancing, and plenty of audience interaction.
When the group disbanded in 2000, Doughty kept up the crusade on a much smaller scale, touring America with an acoustic guitar. Smofe + Smang, recorded live at Minneapolis's Woman's Club Theatre last February, captures Doughty's post-Coughing persona. Here, he's an irrepressible solo entertainer with a few simple, percussive chord changes and a mouthful of lyrics, popping in tiny explosion like the buttons of a too-tight shirt.
In a move that will delight old-school fans, Doughty packed the Smofe + Smang set list with Soul Coughing chestnuts ("Circles," "True Dreams of Wichita," "Soft Serve") and favorites from the singer's 2000 solo record Skittish. The hits are further enhanced by Doughty's restless hands, his ragged guitar melodies freaked and splinted with crowd-pleasing bits of Paul Simon, .38 Special, and improvised nonsense words.
And then there are the jokes. The copious banter--7 of the album's 25 tracks consist of Doughty talking--is the album's albatross. The rambling observations that seem funny on the first listen become unbearable by the fifth. But hearing Doughty wheedle and cajole the crowd into total submission is an undeniable (if self-indulgent) part of the record's charm. By the time Doughty segues into his sing-along closer of the Soul Coughing song "Janine," the mood is so contagious that it's almost impossible not to raise your own voice in a caterwauling toast to one of indie rock's most beguiling showmen.