Recap: Mike Doughty's Free At Noon performance at World Cafe Live - WXPN | Vinyl At Heart

Mike Doughty has a way with words. Since he embarked on his solo career in 2000 (after the break-up of his band Soul Coughing), Doughty’s music has been characterized by two traits: his adherence to the rules of what worked for ’90s rock and his lyrical craftsmanship. The result is somewhere between the Goo Goo Dolls and Barenaked Ladies. His stage presence, which he brought to World Café today for a Free at Noon show, reflects that dynamic. He is low key, exuding a quiet confidence that his songs will stir up the crowd, yet he addressed the audience with a flow of comments so rhythmic and lyrical, it sounded more like an improvised jazz riff than a segue between songs. Listening to Doughty play was genuinely fun, but listening to him speak and sing was fascinating.

Doughty opened the show with the round, bright-sounding “Day By Day By” off of his new album, Yes And Also Yes. His voice dipped and rose with the lyrics, which were packed into lines almost to the point of being indecipherable. When the song finished, he greeted the audience as his “sexy Philadelphia friends,” and introduced his band members with nicknames like “the colossus of Bloomington,” and “Andrew ‘Scrap’ Livingston.” Next, he played another new track, “Into the Un,” an example of very likeable rock—the kind with basic, repeated chord progressions, a steady build and clever lyrics, miraculously making “blind chorine” rhyme with “swilling nepenthe.”

Next, he performed “Telegenic Exes, #2 (Astoria),” whose title alone suggests Doughty’s affinity for words, the stranger the better. This song was slower and softer, which gave Doughty’s endearingly gravely, nasally voice the spotlight. He continued with a fourth track from his new album, “Na Na Nothing,” which could have been a radio rock hit were it written 10, 15 years earlier by Third Eye Blind or Train. At this point, he switched to a green electric guitar and played the dizzying “Strike the Motion.” Throughout the set, he called the crowd his “handsome friends,” “beautiful philadelphians,” and after playing “I Just Want the Girl in the Blue Dress to Keep on Dancing,” from Golden Delicious, Doughty told the audience that they were growing sexier by the moment. “It’s astonishing. I have rarely seen this much sexy before 12 p.m.,” he grinned.

Doughty’s lyrical risks have returns because he is at once colloquial and loquacious. He played “27 Jennifers,” which opens with the humorous observation, “I went to school with 27 Jennifers/ 16 Jenns, 10 Jennies and there was her.” Yet, he is also capable of compositions like his closer, “Looking at the World from the Bottom of a Well,” in which he sings, “Aimless days, uncool ways of decathecting/ Painless phase, blacked out thoughts you’ll be rejecting.” Doughty is a writer who loves the sounds of words, and what he can create with them. Listening to him play, it’s easy to see why Doughty has stayed so remarkably constant over the years. What he’s doing works. He’s at once intellectually challenging and delightfully amusing. —Naomi Shavin

Set List:
Day By Day By
Into the Un
Telegenic Exes, #2 (Astoria)
Na Na Nothing
Strike the Motion
I Just Want the Girl in the Blue Dress to Keep On Dancing
27 Jennifers
Looking at the World from the Bottom of a Well

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