An evening of recalling heydays that perhaps never went away…strangely enough I found myself in the very city that introduced me to the concept of college radio. It was Lawrence, KS and a chili Halloween eve. I’d say that the introduction took place somewhere along the way in 1996. It was in that year that I first stumbled upon 105.9 The Lazer and at that time the station was nothing like its conglomerate owned Top 40 format of today. It was still independent, not yet swallowed up by the ever growing monster of major corporate-owned radio. It was easily one of the last in the area that I can recall in my hazy memory.
If you recall American Graffiti and its iconic DJ Wolfman Jack, well that is what The Lazer was to me and my friends at that time. So much so that the first time I drove by its studios I became silent with my friends in the car as all looked at each other thinking “that’s it!” It was a station where DJ’s still played what they wanted and music was still a sacred place. They created a true birthplace where new music could be discovered and not because a publicly traded entertainment company willed it so. No, it was because a DJ was out there listening to music week in week out and going to shows always looking for something new to share with their audience. They weren’t just a golden voice that could read a cleverly written script. How great was the Lazer? So much that Rolling Stone magazine declared it one of the top ten stations that “didn’t suck” in 1998.
Somewhere along the way in 1998 it all ended overnight. The Lazer was sold to a corporate radio conglomerate and flipped formats to corporate Top 40. It was at this point I lost my music compass and proceeded to go through nearly a decade of embarrassing “nu metal” stages. Hey it was popular at the time.
So what the hell does all this have to do with Mike Doughty playing the Bottleneck? Bear with me…
Years removed from that time it almost all seems poetic in a sick twisted way. A band that the very station in question had introduced me to, Soul Coughing called it quits after their fourth studio album release in 1998 “El Oso.” In less than a year “college radio” and its associated sounds ceased to exist. Soul Coughing’s sound was tailor made to what The Lazer was about. At times catchy straight ahead pop, other times a funky, jazz infused decidedly different direction.
Ten years on from that and one time Soul Coughing front man Mike Doughty is still making the tour rounds and has released nine solo records. Based on the decidedly older than typical Lawrence crowd in attendance for the all hallows eve show, it would seem that many Soul Coughing fans have followed the distinctly voiced artist into his solo endeavors.
Doughty hasn’t lost it either. While his sound is decidedly more traditional alt and indie rock than some of the more random diversions that Soul Coughing would occasionally output. The songs however are just as catchy as they ever were. So much so it made me a bit disappointed that I hadn’t followed his solo endeavors. Doughty played for close to two hours, at one point was receiving a request to play some Soul Coughing material. Doughty affably replied to the audience stating that he had hoped that they would have at least read his wiki page prior to attending the show. Reading up on Soul Coughing it sounds as if their break up was anything but amicable in regard to song writing credits which is likely why he chose not to visit that past at this show. No matter, it was still a good time with great music all around. I may even argue that Doughty’s current output has grown beyond those days in Soul Coughing.
One thing I have to give tons of credit to Doughty for is the workman like ethic he has. He is on tour in support of his new album “Yes and Also Yes.” A title I can get behind if only because it would likely give one pause if they were to receive the statement as a response to a question. I’m still a bit peeved at myself for not grabbing one of the free buttons he was giving away with the title emblazoned upon it. No release date, no artist name, just the title of record. Doughty brought up the fact that the album was out and available at the merch booth several songs into his set. A few songs later he did something that I have an odd, though approving reaction to. He told his audience point blank that he encouraged them to download the record if they were in such a state of financial burden they couldn’t afford it. As an artist it was more important to him that people were hearing his music than if he could afford rent, or a sandwich. A bold though ever growing sentiment in today’s music biz. Another cool thing Doughty was doing was recording the show for purchase upon conclusion so fans could forever hold a keepsake of the evening beyond the typical t-shirt and latest CD tour merch. I can’t close out this review without also mentioning that the singer/songwriter is a prolific blogger as well.
For the lack of jazz infused funk that might be missing from Doughty’s solo efforts opener Moon Hooch more than made up for them. The New York based three piece categorizes their sound as “drum and bass and house.” If you were to see the three piece two saxophonist and one drummer you might be questioning their place in the genre. That said, give it a listen, I found myself at the top of the bleachers at a point early on in the show not being able to see Moon Hooch and could of swore I was in a dance club. I dug the funky very dance worthy tunes the boys were creating.
By John Coovert