Mike Doughty Used to be in Soul Coughing. That’s not just a statement – it was how his most recent run of shows was billed. For the first time in over a decade, the enigmatic songwriter fully embraced the surrealist intensity of his old band’s material, which he has completely reclaimed as his own. Doughty has re-imagined the songs in a manner that is faithful but fresh, and his 90-minute show at the similarly re-imagined Cat’s Cradle in Carrboro, NC embodied his newfound enthusiasm for the material.
Opener Moon Hooch, favorites of Doughty and no strangers to the Cradle stage, got the room warmed up with their unique and relentlessly rhythmic dual sax and drum setup. Then Doughty and his band – Catherine Popper (Grace Potter and the Nocturnals) on bass and Pete Wihoit (Fiction Plane) on drums – managed to keep things hot for the rest of the night. Featuring extensive sampler work, the set was a dizzying homage to some of the finest songs from the heady days of 1990’s “alternative rock”. Doughty has said that he always envisioned many of Soul Coughing’s songs as “club bangers”, and that certainly came across in the skittering breakbeat-tinged version of “Sugar Free Jazz”, the revitalized rhythmic pulse of “How Many Cans”, and the vinyl-fueled “Screenwriter’s Blues”, which Doughty performed alone using a turntable, sampler, and microphone. Doughty’s famed “robot band” has had a longer life than Soul Coughing at this point, and he made the machines work on “Uh Zoom Zip” and “Mr. Bitterness”.
When the band was on stage, the song treatments hewed closer to the thick, jazzy hum of the original recordings, but always with a new and exciting outlook. “True Dreams of Wichita” was given an organic boom-bap twist, while “St. Louise Is Listening”, “Super Bon Bon”, and “Circles” sounded the most like the versions of old, yet still invigorated with new energy. “Janine” proved a fun encore, as a sizeable bra wound up on Doughty’s guitar and everyone had a laugh before departing into the wickedly cloudy and moonlit night. Soul Coughing’s music meant a lot to a lot of people, and a good time was had by all of the devoted fans on this night thanks to Doughty’s willingness to embrace his once-shunned catalog.