BACK, BUT SLIGHTLY DIMINSHEDOnce, long ago, I read on an inspirational poster hanging in my dentist's office that if you love something, you should set it free. If it comes back to you, it was yours all along; if it doesn't, then it was never yours to begin with.
The poster didn't say what happens if it comes back to you in an altered, slightly diminished form, and you're not sure what the hell to do; I suppose that's a different poster altogether.
I loved Soul Coughing, a New York City band that tossed in the occasional beautiful ballad among the slew of songs that were their real forte: slippery pomo funk grooves that incorporated samples, a hip-hop inspired rhythm section and a distinctly beatnik jazz vibe, over which the extremely white Mike Doughty (he went by M. Doughty then) would spout poetry--sometimes humorous, almost always thought-inducing--that consistently repeated words and phrases until he'd essentially deconstructed the English language. The band's first album, 1994's Ruby Vroom (Slash/Warner Bros.) remains a stone classic, and the next two, 1996's Irresistible Bliss (Slash/Warner Bros.) and 1998's El Oso (Warner Bros.), had an abundance of pleasures, too, though their edge was slightly dulled when compared to the debut. No one sounded anything like them, and still no one does. Until now, sort of.
Following Soul Coughing's disbandment, Doughty kept a pretty low profile for years. He'd embark on the occasional acoustic solo tour, selling copies of Skittish, an album of early acoustic material he self-released in 2000; he collaborated with They Might Be Giants for a CD that accompanied an issue of literary quarterly McSweeney's. But for the most part, he stayed out of the limelight. (He also reportedly overcame drug addiction during this period.)
Last year, Skittish got a proper release on Dave Matthews' ATO imprint, paired on a single CD with an EP called Rockity Roll, and earlier this year, Doughty released Haughty Melodic (ATO), an album of all-new material that has raised his public profile once again; the requisite appearances on late-night talk shows followed its release, and he began touring in earnest again, this time with a full band. The album, recorded with a slew of musicians, sounds a bit like what one would guess a Soul Coughing album released in 2005 might, with fewer quirks, more guitar and a heavier emphasis on melody. The band backs Doughty ably, and his deft wordplay is still in full effect on songs like "Sunken-Eyed Girl" and "Grey Ghost." The opener and focus track, "Looking at the World From the Bottom of a Well," is catchy as all get-out, finding him back to the old trick of verbal repetition. But the skeletal groove of "Busting Up a Starbucks" is marred by trite lyrics that namecheck James Van Der Beek and proclaim, "This bitter drink has made you drunk." And "Tremendous Brunettes" suffers from not only a lame chorus but a vocal appearance from Matthews himself. Overall, though, the album is easy to recommend, especially to those who have missed hearing Doughty's unique vocals with full accompaniment.
It seems that if someone you love comes back to you in an altered, slightly diminished form, you give them a hug and tell them how much you missed them. Maybe someone should put that on a poster and sell it to dentists.
Mike Doughty's Band performs at Plush, 340 E. Sixth St., on Tuesday, Sept. 27. Erin McKeown opens at 9 p.m. Tickets are $12, available in advance at virtuous.com. For more information, call 798-1298.
FIERY FAMILY AFFAIRBrother and sister duo Matt and Eleanor Friedberger, who perform as the Fiery Furnaces, have made a career out of confounding listeners' expectations, and their latest release, Rehearsing My Choir (Rough Trade, 2005), is certainly no exception. The disc is something beyond the usual concept album, employing the voices of both Eleanor and Olga Sarantos, the Friedbergers' 83-year-old grandmother, to relate tales and recollections from the latter's life with, as the band's bio states, "liberal heaps of poetic license." The tracks jump around in time, from decade to decade, which makes a difficult listening experience even more challenging, and to be fair, I haven't listened to Choir enough to truly absorb it (and believe me, it'll take a lot of listens to get there). I can tell you that it sounds more like narrative musical theater than anything. And unless the Friedbergers are dragging their 83-year-old grandmother across the country on tour with them, I have absolutely no idea how they're going to replicate this material in a live setting. But I'm damn curious.
The Fiery Furnaces perform at Solar Culture Gallery, 31 E. Toole Ave., on Wednesday, Sept. 28. Asleep in the Sea opens the all-ages show at 9 p.m. Advance tickets are $10, and they'll be $12 on the day of show. For more 411, call 884-0874.
OVERCOMING DOLTHOODI've still never seen the Japanese instrumental band Mono play live, but I hope to rectify that this week, and here's why: You know how you feel like a dolt when you miss a show you wanted to see, and then afterwards, people tell you how incredibly awesome it was? Well, not only has that happened to me every time I've missed a Mono show, but it was an average of three different people with divergent tastes in music doing the telling. They use words like "powerful" and "moving," and each time I hear them wax poetic, I swear I won't miss them again. This time I won't--and you probably shouldn't either, unless you enjoy feeling like a dolt.
Mono performs on Monday, Sept. 26, at Plush, 340 E. Sixth St. Bellini opens at 9:30 p.m. Tickets are $8, available in advance at virtuous.com. Call 798-1298 for further details.
ON THE BANDWAGONCall it more bang for your buck, as a pair of critics' darlings share a bill this week. Singer-songwriter Josh Ritter is still touring on his tremendous 2003 album Hello Starling (Signature), whose instantly recognizable character sketches and lyrical attention to detail have garnered him apt comparisons to the likes of Leonard Cohen, Nick Drake and Bob Dylan. Meanwhile, openers the Frames are an Irish band who play a passionate brand of what can only be described as sonic grandeur. Their sixth studio album, Burn the Maps (Anti, 2005), was called by The New York Times' Jon Pareles "one of the most harrowing, heartfelt albums I expect to hear all year." This exceptional pairing heads to Plush, 340 E. Sixth St., at 9 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 28. Tickets are $12, available in advance at virtuous.com. Call 798-1298 for more info.
A pair of big-time all-ages punk shows hits the Rialto Theatre this week. First up, on Monday, Sept. 26, is New Jersey's My Chemical Romance, whose latest album, Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge (Reprise, 2004), has blown them up big-time. The Alkaline Trio and Reggie and the Full Effect share the bill, which kicks off at 7 p.m. Advance tickets are available for $22 at Bookman's and the Rialto box office. Then, on Wednesday, Sept. 28, Unearth headlines a show that was originally slated to appear at the now-defunct Coconuts, and which also includes slots by Dillinger Escape Plan, Zao and A Life Once Lost. This one also starts at 7 p.m., and you can pick up advance tix for $14 at the Rialto box office. The Rialto Theatre is located at 318 E. Congress St. For further information on either show, call 740-1000.
Finally, Vaudeville Cabaret, 110 E. Congress St., hosts a four-act bill that features a pair of road-weary acts bookended by a pair of locals. Campo Bravo headline; the Golden Boots (with a horn section this time around) open, and sandwiched in between are San Francisco's Last of the Blacksmiths and Phoenix's Lonna Kelley. This one goes down at 9 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 23. Cover is a fiver. Questions? They'll be answered by calling 622-3535.
As usual this time of year, there is much that could not be covered here due to space limitations, so be sure to check out our listings for more worthwhile shows.