Concert review and setlist: Mike Doughty with Moon Hooch and MC Frontalot cover all the bases at Old Rock House, Saturday, October 29
The Old Rock House‘s Twitter feed advertised last night’s Mike Doughty show as a cure for St. Louis’ World Series hangover. What it actually provided was humor, a little good-natured snark and advocation of Internet piracy in the name of music appreciation.
First opener MC Frontalot introduced himself as a “nerdcore rapper from Brooklyn,” and admittedly, this kind of thing sets off all sorts of alarms in my brain. First, there’s the -core suffix, something I don’t always understand to the point of wishing that someone out there would take the initiative to make a chart of all known -cores. Second, there’s the nerd/rapper contradiction, something that’s about as appealing to me as a record store employee who describes a certain kind of heavy metal as “um, kind of mathematical?” Third, the Brooklyn qualifier, a giant red flashing sign of hipper-than-thou status and ironical references.
But these are my problems, and they are easily disposed of when an artist has a sense of humor like MC Frontalot’s. His first song was “First World Problems,” which include misplacing the Ambien, scheduling a root canal, and catching herpes from a celebutante. A later song was “Braggadocio,” in which MC Frontalot admitted to taking liberties with the word in order to rhyme it with “Ralph Macchio.” He advised the crowd that while they could look to him for their nerdery needs, he was not to be relied upon for Italian language pronunciation.
This wry self-awareness combined with a short-sleeved Oxford and checkered tie create a whip-smart Bill Lumberg sort of character who, in “This Old Man,” freely concedes that perhaps he’s too old to prance around onstage as a rapper. His crisis of confidence was bolstered by meaty soul-derived bass and synth instrumentals. If all nerdcore was this funky, maybe I wouldn’t be so afraid of graphing calculators. MC Frontalot closed with the Halloween-appropriate “Goth Girls,” a spook house organ-filled screed about being too afraid to hit on female fans of “horror movies and mope rock.”
Moon Hooch‘s inclusion on the bill was a clear concession to Mike Doughty’s diverse tastes. While MC Frontalot was wordy and enjoyably ironic, Moon Hooch was a 3-piece instrumental jazz ensemble who took the stage playing a saxophone, drums and an octocontrabass clarinet, which, in case you were wondering, was exactly as sexy as it sounds (ahem, very). It was a weird and wonderful experiment of technically skillful jazz and analog house music. So analog, in fact, that at one point, tenor saxophonist (and previously-mentioned octocontrabass clarinetist) Wenzl McGowen stuck a custom-fitted cardboard packing tube into his sax to create a sound I can only describe as a didgeridoo imitating the wreck of the Titanic. Matched with Mike Wilbur’s rapid fire, sometimes screaming sax and James Muschler’s quick, affable drums, Moon Hooch played like the house band for a less goth branch of the Addams Family.
Watching Moon Hooch play — actually, a better word is “super-collaborate” — was an exercise in imagination. How on earth do these exact kind of musicians find one another, and how do they come to play long enough and prolifically enough to get invited to tour with Mike Doughty? I mean, mustn’t the opportunities for this kind of band to evolve have been ripe? McGowen later explained that Doughty had seen Moon Hooch perform in the subway and was so taken with them that he asked them to take part in their first national tour. This admission drew out all the video takers in the crowd, so it’s conceivable that this tour will not be Moon Hooch’s last.
To me, Mike Doughty is more of a writer than a musician. Yes, he is a musician and a very talented one, but his songwriting abilities and turns of phrase have vaulted him into a position as a poet and scribe who just happens to be able to play music on top of it. He is clever and witty, with an ear for catchy rhythms and motley styles constructed around lyrics that at first seem stream-of-consciousness but are actually far more complex and mercurial upon repeated listening. While he has collaborated with Dave Matthews before, Mike Doughty creates music for adults who are too smart to follow around the Dave Matthews Band.
During last night’s set with his Band Fantastic, Doughty confidently played through his catalog, not shying away from more commercial hits like “27 Jennifers” and “Ossining” as well as sampling heavily from 2011′s release “Yes and Also Yes” with songs like the melancholy “Into the Un” and the immensely sing-a-long-able “Na Na Nothing.” He also teased the crowd with the possibility of playing “Fire Truck,” which never happened despite repeated requests from a few of the more insistent fans.
Even during the more mellow and introspective numbers of the evening (“Rational Man,” which began sans lead guitar like a poetry reading, also “Russell”), Doughty’s relationship with the audience was friendly and even bard-like. It would be easy for anyone to acknowledge the Cardinals winning the World Series the night before, but how many artists would address their fans as “Oh victorious and sexy St. Louis”? Doughty asked that anyone interested purchase a copy of “Yes and Also Yes” from the merch table, but also mentioned that if the purchasers were so inclined, they were free to put the album online and share it for free, as engaging in “some low-level piracy” was fine with him as long as everyone has the opportunity to experience the music he has enjoyed creating.
A distinguished rock ‘n’ roll statesman and consummate pro, Doughty created an intimate party atmosphere, not just due to his continued banter with the crowd (including one person named Vince, who really really really wanted to get his voice on the live recording happening during the show) but also with his relationship to his band members.
Daniel “Kashmir” Chen’s electric piano contributed dreamy, swirling acid effects that especially complimented the swooping verse structure of “Tremendous Brunettes,” while his autotuned scat jibberish added a layer of weirdness to “Lorna Zauberberg.” Andrew “Scrap” Livingston’s bass guitar provided a reliable string foundation and straight man foil to Doughty’s patter. Drummer “Indiana” Pete Wilhoit was key in the “raucous, crash-bang kind of situation” Doughty promised during the fake last song, meaning the song the band plays before they leave the stage for a few minutes to pretend like they’re done for the evening.
The actual fake last song was “Looking At the World From the Bottom of a Well,” a well-known hit from 2005′s “Haughty Melodic” and provider of the promised crash-bang kind of situation before Doughty bid everyone a “definitively good night.” Before playing two more songs, of course, after which Doughty and His Band Fantastic left everyone to download what they wished so that anyone who wasn’t there might appreciate the same.
Mike Doughty setlist
(I Keep On) Rising Up
Strike the Motion
Into the Un
Down On the River By the Sugar Plant
Day By Day By
Na Na Nothing
Busting Up a Starbucks
I Just Want the Girl in the Blue Dress to Keep On Dancing
Looking at the World from the Bottom of a Well
I Hear the Bells
Put it Down