Smofe + Smang: Live in Minneapolis – Mike Doughty
Mike Doughty's got a shtick. When I saw the former Soul Coughing frontman
play on Valentine's Day at the Knitting Factory, he delivered a great bit
about robots and their effectiveness as a subject for a pick-up line — a
tangent that's preserved almost exactly on Smofe + Smang: Live in
Minneapolis, recorded a good two weeks after the Valentine's Day gig.
It's hard to hold it against the guy, though. It's all part of the show and
this, after all, is show business — albeit a bit scaled down and adapted to
acoustic guitars and a ridiculously witty dude with a proclivity for pop
There are seven tracks of isolated banter on Smofe + Smang, during
which Doughty holds court on Cribs, The Real World, Road
Rules, and Starbucks (among other topics). It carries over into some of
the songs, too, with references to Behind The Music ("Janine"),
"James van der Beek and them sisters from Sister, Sister" ("Bustin'
Up A Starbux"), and "this riff from a.38 Special tune from the '80s"
("Sunkeneyed Girl"). The references are the bridge between Doughty's shtick
and the songs. The resultant image is of Doughty's world or maybe just
Doughty's character's world. We get glimpses into his apartment, the streets
around his house, and some of its residents.
With Mark de Gli Antoni's creaking, squeaking samples, Soul Coughing sounded
like the aural fantasy of a man wandering the streets of lower Manhattan,
hearing the buses and sidewalks and pedestrians erupt into a veritable
symphony. Smoke + Smang (as well as "Skittish", his earlier solo
effort) sound more like the reality of the situation — a guy making up
songs on subway platforms and empty streets. The surrealistic fantasies of
earlier work ("If I rose up, and left the avenue behind me", from "Super Bon
Bon") have given way to more grounded tendencies ("sunkeneyed girl in the
sandwich shop", from "Sunkeneyed Girl").
At this point, it seems like a warmer, fuzzier place than the aggressively
allusionary locale he occupied with Soul Coughing. Of course, the fact that
the seven new songs premiered on this disc were intended to be realized for
acoustic guitar instead of the broad cinematic creakings of his old quartet
might have a lot to do with it. "Bustin' Up A Starbux", as the best of the
new tunes, is a good indicator of this. Doughty's characters have never been
particularly violent. Still, a few years ago, it would've been hard to
envision them chilling comfortably behind a lattnd lecturing young
That, and the phrasing is amazing. "Does the man who makes the shoes own you
clown? You / Can't even pry the name plate off now can you? / Fix it with
your tiny fist there-a / James van der Beek / And them sisters from
Sister, Sister". He rhymes "you" with "you", but even that's okay.
The song is layered over his trademark folk-skank guitar, which might be old
hat to people who've been listening to Doughty for a few years. But, then
again, if you've stuck with Doughty this long already, then you probably got
over it long ago. It's still a tantalizing kind of rhythm, kinda like Richie
Havens or Ani DiFranco's trademark diamond-edged slashings, albeit one that
sounds a bit sparse without the machinations of other musicians.
One yearns to envision Doughty's music kinda like Beck's. Beck has dabbled
in several different approaches — the retro-millennial party funk of
Midnite Vultures, the anti-folk of One Foot In The Grave, the
sample heavy work with the Dust Brothers on Odelay, the lush
psychedelia of Mutations. At the center of all of these albums,
though, is a pearl of an idea — the "true" Beck. It would be nice to think
of the music on Smofe + Smang as representing the "true" Doughty — a
stripped-bare skeleton that's ready and waiting to be built up. With any
luck, the soundtrack work that he's supposedly in the midst of right now,
combined with recent use of electric guitars at live shows, will push him in
new directions. 'Til then, though, there's Smofe + Smang, and that's