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Every time Mike Doughty plays live, he delivers. Period. I'm fairly confident in this statement, as I've seen him play probably a dozen times over the past five years or so and each time he has put on a fantastic show, whether playing by himself or with one accompanist or with a band. This tour around seems like a rarity, especially for the Western United States, as we were treated to a performance with a full band. Not just Doughty and keyboard, not just Doughty and bass, but Doughty backed by bass, drums, and keyboards all. Wonderful!

Tonight's show began with the band coming on stage and the keyboard monitors not working… Doughty was joking around for a minute while the problem got resolved and "Cashmere" Dan Chen (AKA "Handsome" Dan Chen) could hear himself playing and the band launched into a bombastic version of "Rising Up." Doughty played electric guitar, accompanied by drummer extraordinaire Pete Wilhoit, Chen, and longtime collaborator/bassist/friend Andrew "Scraps" Livingston. It was startling the difference that bass and drums make in the music. The last four or so times that I've seen Doughty perform it's either been himself or with a keyboardist only, and the full band was very refreshing. It seemed to allow Doughty the freedom to play more electric guitar and have a bit more fun, as well. The band rocked "27 Jennifers", lending it a bit of a funky vibe that it's never had before, but I still hold that the rockier version of this song lacks the weird intimacy that the Rockity Roll version had. Near the end of the song, Dan pulls out some cool delay pedal acrobatics on his electric piano, making the song pulse with coolness. Doughty played with the vocal phrasing on "Tremendous Brunettes" a bit, having some fun with the words and how they fit within the confines of the song.

The band played their first song from the latest record Yes And Also Yes with a great version of "Rational Man" that was more drum and bass than anything else, creating a throbbing intensity that moves the song along nicely, almost without any beauty but with so much power. Things softened up just a bit at the chorus' end, but this song ate up dynamics, sounded perfect live. Doughty put down the electrical and took up an acoustic guitar for "American Car". In true Doughty fashion, Mike exhorted the crowd to purchase the new record for sale at the door, and if they don't buy it, to steal it from the internet, but even better to buy it, rip it, and give it to someone so that they've stolen it. Doughty has always had a very healthy attitude toward the internet, not caring as much if he's making big money from his releases, but seeming just to want people to hear them. Meanwhile, "American Car" was great and deep with a full band and fell apart wonderfully in the bridge as the keyboards echoed on and on. "Down On The River By The Sugar Plant" was very dynamic and textural with this lineup, making for a very beautiful experience. On "Lorna Zauberberg," Handsome Dan Chen went nuts on the crazy vocal part as the band hit a nice, easy groove and then fell apart while Chen's vocals went on and on. "Day By Day By" had a nicely lifted groove, dare I say joyous, complemented by a fun organ solo. The song had much more life live than the version on the new record, while the vocal harmonies really enhanced "Na Na Nothing" and helped to create a really nice vibe, groovy and tight.

The set list drew heavily from the new record, as one would expect, but neglected no part of Doughty's illustrious solo career. AS he switched back to the electrical guitar, fans were yelling out songs like they always do at his shows. Doughty's response was as amicable and quippy as ever, and one of my favorites was when he responded to a song request with, "That's not loudy. It's loudy songs tonight, not softy songs." "Russell" started out with just Doughty and his electric guitar before the keyboards then bass slowly built in to a beautiful soft crescendo, showing just how easy and dynamic Doughty can make all of this look when he's being backed by the right group of musicians. The band launched into a silly, long, groovalicious intro to "Busting Up A Starbucks", straightening out the groove a bit, rocking it hard and making it powerful. "Vegetable" belied its LP version and had the nice groove until it built to a beautifully noisy crescendo. "…Girl In The Blue Dress…" was all groove… the vocals weaving in and out of the brilliantly tight and dynamic drumming, making for an awesome experience. Before playing "Ossining," Doughty laid out his plan for the end of the show, explaining (just like in the old days) how the band was going to play two more songs, pretend to be finished, step to the side of the stage and then come back over and play three more songs. The song before the fake last song… "Ossining" was very powerful with a full band behind it and "Looking At The World…" was heavily groovy at the intro before building into one of the more energetic songs of the set and finishing with the promised giant rock ending.

The band moved to the side of the stage in a huddle and then Doughty grabbed an acoustic guitar for the encore, and started in with a beautiful, low intro for "I Hear The Bells." The first two verses were made up of solely acoustic and keyboard before the bass and drums slowly built in and then turned the song into a jazzy, spacey freak out before the fourth verse calmed everything back down. "Put It Down" was nice and groovey with some crazy breakdowns and fall-aparts as Doughty spit the lyrics out sharply, reminding a bit of his days in Soul Coughing. The band turned"Put It Down" into a medley with "Pleasure On Credit," not stopping between the two, but interweaving them into one cohesive groove machine. The end result was that Doughty appeared as the neu-beat poet that he is and was and reminds me that the new record, like the last, is missing that fierce vocal throwdown.

The night was fantastic. Doughty delivered as he always does, but seemed even more at ease with this group of guys backing him up than he ahs seemed the last few shows I've witnessed. And as I've stated previously, it was really, really nice to hear Doughty on the road with a full band, tearing it up in a very rock and roll sort of way. Here's the actual set list from the evening:

1. Rising Up
2. 27 Jennifers
3. Tremendous Brunettes
4. Strike The Motion
5. Rational Man
6. American Car
7. Into The Un
8. Down On The River By The Sugar Plant
9. Lorna Zauberberg
10. Day By Day By
11. Na Na Nothing
12. Russell
13. Busting Up A Starbucks
14. Vegetable
15. I Just Want The Girl In The Blue Dress To Keep On Dancing
16. Ossining
17. Looking At The World From The Bottom Of A Well
18. I Hear The Bells
19. Put It Down/Pleasure On Credit

-David DeVoe

Mike Doughty and his Band Fantastic
November 1, 2011
Bluebird Theater, Denver, CO

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