Generally, I like Doughty's re-recordings/imaginings. They are up-beat, brighter and more optimistic than the originals. Further, and in regard to songs that were once near and dear to my heart (and still are in most cases), I tend to like the older takes better, as is the case with "Circles," "So Far I Have Not Found the Science" and "Saint Louise is Listening," but on tracks that I don't remember as well, such as "Mr. Bitterness," Unmarked Helicopter" and "The Idiot Kings," I like the new cuts better than the old.
Before Mike Doughty performed at Off Broadway, the three-piece Sons of Hippies (from Tennessee) gave the early arrivers a taste of molten, psych-bar rock helmed by axe-woman and vocal-powerhouse Katherine Kelly. "Dark Daisies," from 2013's "Griffons at the Gates of Heaven," indulged in heady post-rock and reverb/echo-affected vocals from Kelly. A swoosh of colored hair fell around her face as her tattooed arm strummed an electric guitar on "Blood and Wine."
"Man or Moon" featured a slight West Coast vibe with sunny guitar. I dug how Sons of Hippies could go from deathy, nigh-Goth rock to trippy, lightly distorted '70s rock. "Blood in the Water" and "Spaceship" stood out as favorites, striking the perfect balance between Kelly's spoken-word style and her falsetto "ooos."
After a break and a quick setup, Doughty strode on stage with two supporting musicians, a drummer and an upright bass player. "Is Chicago, Is Not Chicago" opened with Katherine Popper's jazzy, poetry-club-esque upright bass and tight, tambourine-led drumming.
On "Sugar Free Jazz," the girls in the front row mouthed Doughty's words. "The Idiot Kings" hummed and whirred with buoyant guitar and Doughty's warm "hmmms." Doughty's voice has matured nicely into his 40s; its unusual nasal dryness has deepened, which added a nice element to the work.
"Unmarked Helicopters" pleased in its newly imagined form, while "Lazybones" found Doughty on some kind of digital modulator, manipulating blips and looping them to form the bed of the track.
Doughty's supporting band left the stage and the musician/poet jumped on a pair of turntables that supplied the musical undercurrent to his speaking/singing. "Screen Writer's Blues" and "Uh, Zoom Zip" shaded poetically lyric and dusky like a late-night hipster at a reading. "You are going to Reseda to make love to a model from Ohio whose real name you don't know" stood out as a favorite line.
After, Doughty started another LP on the turntable and played acoustic over the track, singing the words of "Mr. Bitterness." The lyrics slipped into the space of the track, unfolding clean and serene. Doughty's band returned for "Soft Serve," "How Many Cans?" "Monster Man" and "St. Louise Is Listening."
"Moon Sammy" trailed into "So Far I've Haven't Found the Science," and Doughty told the audience that he was going to play one more song, quit the stage and then play two more songs, which he assured us wasn't going to be a surprise.
"Super Bon Bon" and "Circles" closed out the encore. I rejoiced that I had finally heard "Circles" played live and wondered how many people in attendance had experienced the same jolt. Whether fans like the old or the new sound better proved to be irrelevant thanks to Doughty's skill and care. Moreso, it takes balls to delve back into old songs and make them work once again. In the end, Doughty brought his craft to St. Louis in fine fashion, offering fresh takes on old favorites, reminding everyone that good music is timeless and there is always room for revision.