Mike Doughty - Live at the Rivoli

There are very few artists that will entertain a crowd everytime out. Bands either need to have a strong catalog, a great stage presence or some combination of the two. For me, very few artists make this grade. Ben Harper, Ted Leo, Jack Johnson, Jets to Brazil, Beastie Boys, Iron and Wine, the Shins, Spoon... ok, so maybe a lot. However, these are all bands that play to large crowds, not a room usually filled with less than 100 people. Mike Doughty on the other hand, shows up, knowing he may only be playing for 50 people, and makes sure everyone leave happy.

Last night, Mike Doughty and Susan Enan took the small stage at the Rivoli for our listening pleasure. It was a tough venue for the quiet songstress who came via NY, Northern Ireland via London. She writes beautiful acoustic songs, but in a room full of fanatical Doughty fans that ranged from frat guys hoping to hear "Circles", to hippies hoping that Dave Matthews would show up for a duet on "Tremendous Brunettes", the opening act often gets no love. However, as she stood alone on the stage and expressed her past through gentle finger picked chords, Susan Enan made quite a few new fans. She was charming, and in an age where most songwriters are consumed by their anger and misery, her cheerful demeanor helps quiet the beer bottles and chatter. Here set was short, but excellent. She rotated to the keyboards for a few songs ("Moonlight") and the highlight for me was the song "Bird". The audience was very receptive, and I think Susan was genuinely surprised to be getting such applause.

Mike Doughty. What can you say? The former front man for Soul Coughing has been touring for years, with more lineups than a police station, to support his solo work. He is a great performer, who is most successful when interacting with the crowd and making the audience feel like the show is for them. He responds to every comment, and repeats the crowds jokes. Each set, no matter the songs, is unique and guaranteed to impress.

This time around, he was touring to support his new record, Haughty Melodic. In tow was Toronto native, Handsome Dan Chen, on the keys. The duo plays well together, adding a more rock feel to a lot of the songs, and it was the best I have heard Mike sound in the 5 or so times I've seen him live.

Last night's set was similar to the sets he has been playing on this tour, focusing on the newer material, but throwing in some old Soul Coughing tracks ("True Dreams", "Soft Serve", and "St. Louis"), tracks from Skittish ("Thank You Lord for Sending Me the F-Train", "All the Dirt") and the Rockitty Roll ep ("27 Jennifers, "40 Grand in the Hole" - note, I've never heard him place this live in any show, and "Ossining").

The show was a display in "medium rock" and the over zealous crowd got way too excited over the fact they had a sound effect for Victory, but his stage banter was great. He told "freebird guy" he was going to kill him, and called out "japanese b-sides guy" after someone requested too many obscure Soul Coughing tracks. He also revelaed the fact he would sign any titties placed in front of him, male or female, as long as they weren't too hairy.

For an encore, the duo played a semi sincere tribute to the greatest composer of all time. Hearing Mike blast out the chorus to the "Gambler" was a great encore. I was glad he played the new track "Your Misfortune" as the final song. As his solo material continues to get stronger, I am happy to see him move away from closing shows with "Janine", and continue to forge his own identity.

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