Live Review: Mike Doughty @ Birchmere, September 9

Less than 24 hours after returning from my honeymoon, I felt obligated to jump back into the thick of things for you, our adoring public, and attended Mike Doughty‘s “Question Jar” concert stop over at the Birchmere. For I believe the second time around, Mr. Doughty peppers his show essentially with a Q&A audience participation period between all the songs, wherein attendees are encouraged to submit questions into a, you guessed it, question jar, which he then answers throughout the duration. Accompanied by the phenomenal Andrew “Scrap” Livingston on various string instruments, the two played songs from all of Doughty’s solo albums and more than a couple of tracks from his earlier days with the esteemed Soul Coughing. Shorn of locks, Doughty played everything from “Circles” to “Tremendous Brunettes”, “Put It Down” to “Sunken Eyed Girl“.

Now, I’m an unabashed fan and probably post way too much on his fan site (those of you who frequent said site, you can find me there under the oddbodkins moniker), but I’ll have to admit, I’ve been a little less than blown away the past few times I’ve seen him live. For me, at least, the allure of a Mike Doughty show rests squarely on his intimacy with the crowd and unparalleled audience banter. The larger his ensemble has grown of late (such as opening for the Barenaked Ladies a couple of years back), the less compelling the performances have become. Thankfully, last night was a throwback to his earlier solo days (remember the stunning brilliance of Smofe + Smag?).

Mike joked easily and often with the crowd, as did Scrap, and it felt more like a performance by a good buddy in his kitchen than it did an “actual” concert. This is where the man’s strengths lie, so it was quite the return to the glory days, as far as I was concerned. Mike and Scrap made it through the entire question jar, which ran the gamut from two requests for sex to what should people do if the Large Hadron Collider does inadvertently create a black hole that will destroy the earth. The duo answered all questions with the sense of humor that makes a Doughty show worth seeing. You see, catching MD is a lot like wearing your favorite flannel: while it may or may not be the most stylish apparel, it’s comfy as hell and you love wearing it, plain and simple. To put it another way, when the mood is right, it’s simply a perfect fit.

Sadly, I may be in the minority in this opinion, as I don’t believe I’ve ever seen the Birchmere so empty. Management went so far as to quadrant off half the parking lot, and it didn’t seem to imposition anyone at all. Still, their loss was the audience’s gain, as M. Doughty reminded me why I got into his sound in the first place. Forget the “medium rock” sound of the past few albums, last night at the Birchmere was vintage Mike of the “small rock” genius.

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