he just don’t care: Mike Doughty at Revolution Hall.
the Band Go
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.
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
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
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.
Flip of the Coyne
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
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?
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
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
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.
Clutch, Stinking Lizaveta
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
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.
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
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.