sun 14/07/2024

Mike Doughty, Borderline | reviews, news & interviews

Mike Doughty, Borderline

Mike Doughty, Borderline

One man and his acoustic guitar can still rock the house

Mike Doughty: a far from generic singer-songwriter

The solid, shiny band sound on New Yorker Mike Doughty’s most recent solo album Yes And Also Yes was a reason to get very excited about the prospect of him visiting the UK to do some live concerts. But then a couple of weeks ago a new live double CD The Question Jar Show turned up in the post featuring just Doughty accompanied by celloist Andrew Livingstone.

It’s a diverting enough listen but it did look like last night might turn out to be a pat-arse rather than kick-arse kind of show.

Then when Doughty took to the stage alone, the heart really sank. But the man who made one of the best rock/pop albums of the past year is fortunately no ordinary songwriter and no ordinary acoustic guitar player. With his “stool to put stuff on” by his side, the one-time Soul Coughing front man sat on a slightly higher stool, and proceeded to demonstrate how to be an effective one-man band without the use of even an effects pedal.

At one point he sang the wrong lyrics and proceeded to deconstruct what had gone wrong

For Doughty is a master of muting or dampening strings as much as he is of playing them. His left hand stops more notes than it allows to sing, regardless of how hard his right hand is strumming away. This effectively turns his guitar into a percussion instrument that just occasionally unleashes bright angular chords. This staccato style perfectly complements the way his song lyrics tumble out, a teasing mix of the accessible, the deeply personal and the beat-poet Dadaesque.

Perhaps this is a New York thing. A certain brand of sophisticated urban detachment combined with devil-may-care wit and dumb ass romanticism we’ve all come across before with the likes of Lou Reed. The crowd nodded their heads and smiled knowingly at whichever oblique but poetically impeccable arrangement of words had struck a personal or impersonal chord with them. Whether it was the post-protest song “Busting Up a Starbucks” or the Costello-like bitter punk pop of “Na Na Nothing” it was all delivered in Doughty’s sonorous deadpan drawl.

Between songs too, Doughty was edgily charming and obliquely entertaining. At one point he sang the wrong lyrics and then proceeded to deconstruct what had gone wrong: apparently there’s Doughty One; the performer, Doughty Two; the person “motoring” the performer, and Doughy Three (third-person Doughty? Doubting Doughty?) who made Doughty One screw up the lyrics in the first place. I’ve never heard anyone so candidly and amusingly dissect such a mistake just moments after it had occurred.

But perhaps one of the most touching moments of the evening came when he covered Mary J. Blige’s 2008 R&B classic “Real Love”. The audience seemed intuitively to understand that it was just too much of a leap for a songwriter adept at delivering luminous fast-cut lyrics densely packed with steely DeLillo-like imagery to write their own song in which they simply express a desire to find the right person to love. Doughty One covered the very real “Real Love” because Doughty Three wouldn’t let him write such a nakedly direct song himself. But all three Doughtys can be congratulated on performing a thoroughly engrossing concert.

Watch a video for "Na Na Nothing"

His song lyrics tumble out, a teasing mix of the accessible, the deeply personal and the beat-poet Dadaesque


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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