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Like he just don’t care: Mike Doughty at Revolution Hall.

photo:Joe Putrock

Let the Band Go
By John Brodeur

Mike Doughty’s Band

Revolution Hall, Sept. 8

Mike Doughty and his band came to Revolution Hall on Thursday night, where they played a bunch of songs from his new album in front of a few hundred fans.

There’s really not much else to say about Mike Doughty. The guy practically exists in a zone of nondescript. Despite having a recognizable voice (something like a young Tom Waits with a bad cold) and a few minor hits with his old band (Soul Coughing, who are but a distant memory based on Thursday’s set list), he offers little at face value to set himself aside or apart from the pack of wordy, vaguely funky pop-rockers that dominate the college market and have infringed on the jam circuit in the last five years. Really, what is there to distinguish Doughty from, say, Jason Mraz—other than that he doesn’t suck?

For starters, there’s the new album, Haughty Melodic, which is a reinvention in both aesthetic and purpose. Doughty is fronting a band for the first time since Soul Coughing split nearly seven years ago, and the new style clicks. The solo-acoustic thing he’d been at for the past several years had grown tiresome; someone whose musical pedigree is so infused with rhythm really ought to have a rhythm section.

And Doughty’s dynamite band added some much-needed color to the occasional whitewash of his solo material. The trio—Pete McNeal on drums, upright bassist Andrew “Scrappy” Livingston, and keyboard chameleon Dan Chen—played tastefully, yet with the abandon needed to keep the pilot light going when the heat burned low. Chen’s (sampled) Wurlitzer electric piano brought a real R&B flavor to “True Dreams of Wichita,” the evening’s sole dip into the Soul Coughing catalog; Livingston’s playing was understated and cool; McNeal was a dynamo throughout the evening, zigzagging between jazzy subdivisions and straightforward rock beats.

Mike Doughty was, as expected, Mike Doughty. “The name of this band is my name,” he announced as he first took the stage. It was a variation of the benevolent gesture he’d make numerous times throughout the night—he clearly relishes his time onstage and the excitement of his audience; and he did his best to share that sense of enjoyment with his bandmates, each of whom got more than their share of the spotlight thanks to Doughty’s frequent shout-outs.

Opening with “Busting Up a Starbucks,” the band played for well over 90 minutes, stopping at nearly every track from Haughty Melodic. Among the highlights: fan favorite “Madeline and Nine,” the pseudo-stonerisms of “Tremendous Brunettes” (“Slow down, don’t fuck with my high”), and a solo turn on the stern “Thank You Lord for Sending Me the F-Train” (from his 2000 album Skittish). On “Unsingable Name,” a tuned-down electric-dobro groove evolved into a post-rock/disco jam (think Tortoise meets Franz Ferdinand), with Doughty doing a bit of scat singing using the phrase “hot breakfast.” Goofy, yes, but a perfect match for a fun-loving audience that was overheard requesting “fake words” (not a song; they actually wanted to hear him make stuff up) and “Hungry Like the Wolf” (which they played—well).

The group unveiled a pair of new tunes, including one that may or may not be called “Pavilion,” easily the most memorable song of the evening. And that’s the problem: The material has an inherent tonal uniformity that causes many of the tunes to blend together. Doughty has a strong character, but needs some new stories—he might try starting in the direction of the sweet “Your Misfortune,” which closed the show on a most positive note.

Chris Glover did an acoustic hiphop routine to open the show. A Dave Matthews fan might have called it soulful (he did sound like Justin Timberlake at times), but Glover had little charisma and all of one decent tune.

The Flip of the Coyne

George Benson

Washington Avenue Armory, Sept. 10

Talk about your second acts. Jim Coyne, as you might recall, was the Albany County Executive responsible for building what is now called the Pepsi Arena. Shortly after the arena went up, Coyne was indicted and found guilty on a variety of graft- related federal charges and went on a mandatory vacation to Club Fed for four years. It’s a fair question whether Coyne was a threat to society or was nailed for having made the wrong enemies. But his public humiliation could not have been more complete.

Fast-forward 10 years and here Coyne is again, leading a group of investors in rebuilding the old Washington Avenue Armory on the corner of Washington Avenue and Lark Street. I hear Coyne detractors out there, the Smallbany crawfish-in-the-bucket nabobs of indignation. I would observe only that Coyne has built two big, cool, public things in town, exactly two more than most of us have built. To paraphrase Larry the Cable Guy, he gets it done. Happy the Stones are in town on Saturday? Thank Coyne.

And he done good, again. It’s a glorious space. Just walking through the massive brownstone archway, past the elegant dark stairways, and into arena is an awesome, breathtaking experience. The armory feels as good as any public space I’ve been in, and it wears a red carpet well.

The main room has been groomed to a spit-shine: gleaming wood floor and ceiling, painted brick walls. The soaring metal arches below the ceiling add a stunning visual counterpoint—modern engineering and materials make these muscular arches unnecessary for new buildings, I’d guess, and that’s a shame. They are a beautiful thing to behold. The basketball court is lined with aluminum grandstands filled with eleven rows of kelly-green upholstered seats.

On Saturday the floor was dotted with a couple dozen tables and a couple hundred seats, and hundreds of giddy partygoers, many in tuxes and gowns. When George Benson hit the stage at 8 PM, the floor was crowded, but the courtside grandstand was less than a third full. I suspect that if the concert ticket had been half of the pricy $65, the place would have been full.

Benson implored the crowd to fill the big dance floor in front of the stage, and the party quickly turned into a woozy, geriatric prom on steroids. And it was a blast. Benson, who is often criticized as a lightweight when he headlines jazz festivals, was the perfect guy for this job. With a killer five-piece band behind him, he played a sizzling 90-minute set of material that ranged from soulful to medium funky. I got the feeling that he was in corporate-party mode, the bread and butter for artists on Benson’s level, but nonetheless, it was all very, very good. And yes, he can play that-there guitar.

Given the brick and wood surfaces, the sound was only a little boomy, and not unpleasantly so. Folks, we got us an old, new, world-class room. Don’t screw it up.

—Paul Rapp

The Monsters Within

Clutch, Stinking Lizaveta

Saratoga Winners, Sept. 10

Only two great bands have ever come from Maryland: the the now-defunct Wrathchild America, and Clutch, the rugged interstellar titans with all phasers set on “kill.” And indeed, the fabled unholy stench of the manticore returned to the Capital Region this past Saturday, unfortunately at that dilapidated frontier town Saratoga Winners. Clutch’s popularity has exploded over the course of the last two or three years. Good for the band, good for pure rock commerce, but bad for me, who endured a meathead factor that one rarely sees outside fraternity rushes. I swear I think some of these guys shaved their chests and did pull-ups in preparation for the show. Don’t lie, you bastards. I saw you. You there, in the nipple rings and overalls.

To say that Clutch are interesting is an understatement along the lines of that jackass Bill Frist’s comment that “things didn’t go as well as it (sic) should have” regarding former FEMA director/equine aficionado Mike Brown’s hot time in the Big Easy. Clearly spewn forth and iron-wrought for stoner-rock consumption, they seem to have engendered an almost jam-band appeal, an idea not lost on singer- songwriter Neil Fallon, who led his tribe into almost three hours of music. They even split the evening’s menu into two courses, a foray into a monstrous digestive system of fantasy, astrology, mythology and just good ol’ sternum-cracking riffage. Fallon rocked to and fro, aping Ian Anderson’s majestic construction of imaginary flight patterns in the filthy air with his hands while leading the band into “The Incomparable Mr. Flannery” and “Burning Beard,” both from the new Robot Hive/Exodus disc. The new stuff is a punishing mix of delta-blues trash and exemplary, pounding choruses, meshing nicely with older classics like “Texan Book of the Dead” and “The Elephant Riders,” although a good chunk of the evening’s crunchy bits came mostly from the new CD and 2004’s Blast Tyrant. The momentum was broken only by the failure of Jean-Paul Gaster’s bass drum, guest appearances by roadie Brian Hinckley (for the nugget “Rats” and others) and the strange little cowbell intro to “Release the Kraken.” And the time-space continuum then did fold into a hairy parcel and disappeared for a long time thereafter.

All this comes despite the fact Clutch probably are the least visually stimulating “stoner rock” act to watch. I don’t think guitarist Tim Sult’s feet moved once until he walked off stage. But like watching the Dead, the Ramones, Pink Floyd, it doesn’t really matter, because the music is doing all the work. And like the manticore itself, Clutch also enjoy challenging their prey with riddles before killing; the band’s poesy has an intrinsic, glowing energy that makes all this whiny self-reflective swill being pumped up our arses by even the independent labels these days seem like, well, Mike Brown’s job: irrelevant. It’s all wasted on most of these dunderheads anyway, flexing in the pit and fantasizing about oily Greco-roman warriors. They’re missing the best part, only yearning for the flawless delivery so they can test someone’s jaw. The band’s only true downside was that newly added keyboardist Mick Schauer was utterly buried by the ballad of Marshall Stack. He might as well have just sat there in his baseball cap and sipped off the keggerator. And the night ended strangely, with the band omitting the obligatory “Pure Rock Fury” and the much-called-for “Space Grass,” Fallon instead opting for Robot Hive’s two very subdued covers (Mississippi Fred McDowell’s “Gravel Road” and Howlin’ Wolf’s “Who’s Been Talking?”). Disappointing, but let’s face it—“Space Grass” just isn’t a very good song, and maybe they know it.

Philly’s Stinking Lizaveta systematically decimated the place with their rich and remarkably comprehensive jazz of doom. That’s the only way I can describe it. Guitarist Yanni Papadopoulos, a dead ringer for a homeless and thirsty Cheech Marin, led brother Alexi on upright bass and Cheshire Agusta on drums into blissful atmospheric oblivion, as he leapt shirtless from the columns, howled into his pickups and basically held court for 40 minutes with a Zappa-esque fretboard assault. And Agusta handled the 5/4s with a graciousness that made me want to quit my job. All five of them.

—Bill Ketzer

Tits and Assets

Mötley Crüe

Saratoga Performing Arts Center, Aug. 28

Leave it to the biggest, dumbest rock band of the 1980s to deliver the biggest, dumbest concert of 2005. Mötley Crüe’s Carnival of Sin tour was all its name promised and more—from the extraordinary amount of fire to the unfathomable profanity, from the mostly naked girls onstage to the mostly naked girls (including several of the Capital Region’s own!) on the giant projection monitors to either side of the stage, this was the most R-rated—if not NC-17—live performance ever to hit the area.

I wouldn’t consider myself easily shocked, but I’ll be damned if I didn’t watch the majority of the Crüe’s second set with my jaw agape. To accompany the set-opening “Girls, Girls, Girls,” the monitors rolled a loop of pornography (girl-on-girl mostly). And that was only after three of the band members (54-year-old Mick Mars passed on the opportunity) made their grand reentrance atop Harley-Davidson motorcycles, which produced a sound even louder than the brain-damaging P.A. volume.

This was classic Mötley Crüe—bigger, badder, louder, and more vulgar than anything the band have ever done, than anything their audience has ever seen, than anything they’ll ever care to see again.

There was music, too, but that needn’t be made an issue since the band didn’t seem to care that their set was upstaged by their stage setup. Otherwise, they wouldn’t have brought along the 700th smoke machine. Or the faux-lesbian dancers, sporting some of the biggest, fakest boobs I’ve ever seen (to complement the four real boobs in the band, perhaps).

Or the would-have-been-much-cooler-in-1983 keyboard solo, during which Nikki Sixx did battle with four notes and a belt-sander-wielding chick in a scrap-metal blouse.

Or the midget. Nothing breaks the monotony of a big, dumb rock show like a midget.

Or Tommy Lee’s stint as operator of the “Mötley Crüe Titty-Cam.” Nothing breaks the monotony of a big, dumb rock show like a bunch of young women flashing their breasts in front of 20,000 people. Of course, nothing says “big and dumb” like Tommy Lee, whether he’s hollering “titties!” like an extra from Porky’s, gleefully banging out the rudimentary piano part from “Home Sweet Home,” or boffing a drum fill because he can’t catch the drumstick he just hurled into the air. Captain Obvious even went the extra mile and made a dick joke onstage. That’s right, a dick joke—from Tommy Lee, with love. God bless his stupid little head.

Guitarist Mick Mars was offstage every 10 minutes, sometimes during songs, and often for a significant period of time, likely to accommodate his medical condition. (Mars suffers from a degenerative illness called ankylosing spondylitis, and recently underwent hip-replacement surgery.) Those moments—when the other three members were forced to clown around to kill time—were the most entertaining part of the show. The skits were brain-dead and cheap, but with the show being one big hard-sell, more-bang-for-your-buck thingamabob, they made perfect sense. Watching Tommy and a plastic-looking Vince Neil slugging back Jägermeister and light beer (respectively), chumming it up like they don’t secretly still hate each others’ guts? Priceless. And the banter, every last utterance laced heavily with expletives, was both repellant and irresistible, kinda like the music of Mötley Crüe itself.

And, underneath it all, this was a rock concert, albeit one that could have happened at any point in the last 15 years. With one exception (“Sick Love Song”), the entire set list was culled from the Crüe’s glory days (those fabulous ’80s), with the first 45 minutes dedicated to earlier material (never has the heavy-metal hand-signal been more appropriate than during “Shout at the Devil”) and the remainder covering the later hits and power ballads. Nothing unexpected: “Wild Side” and “Kickstart My Heart” rule; “Without You” still blows.

—John Brodeur


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