Soul Coughing

Soul Coughing

with the Gigolo Aunts

The Hatch Shell, Boston, MA • September 12, 1998

The only good wars are radio wars. The Boston radio station scene consists of three “hip” radio stations that all battle for listeners by trying to put on the “best free show.” It might cost a hefty sum for these stations, but for the music fan, it’s a wonderful situation. The latest ammunition from the home base of 101.7 WFNX came in the form of New York’s unclassifiable Soul Coughing. Nobody could really tell me when the band was going on stage, so we showed up early enough to take a leisurely seat on the grass before a bunch of random guys got on stage and started playing a song. Twenty seconds later they stopped.

These random guys turned out to be the opening band, Gigolo Aunts, doing some kind of incredibly late sound check. After a couple more twenty to thirty second songs, the guys left the stage only to show up again a half an hour later to play their set. Greeted by a lackluster crowd of people who probably didn’t know the difference between the Gigolo Aunts and Gigolo Big and the Barflies, the band busted into their 45 minute set of something that sounded hauntingly similar to what would happen if Son Volt and Hootie and the Blowfish had a baby. I can’t say I was moved to do anything but sit exactly where I was and try to scream over the noise, but to the band’s credit there was a small group of girls at the front of the crowd screaming and jumping to the band’s every note. Finally, the Gigolo Aunts thanked the audience for their time, told everyone where they could buy some t-shirts, and left the stage.

Somehow in the next twenty minutes, the crowd quadrupled and started to stand up so that by the time Soul Coughing was ready to take to the stage, the rather large grass field was completely filled and a bridge off in the distance was lined with people as well. The band opened up with “Screenwriter’s Blues” off their debut album, Ruby Vroom, and for the next eighty minutes played a set that was filled with a smattering of tracks off their new album El Oso, while the rest was a mix of their first two. The band has an uncanny ability to take songs from their albums and perform them in such a way that the entire structure of the song, sometimes, is actually changed in a seemingly improvisational way. Parts of songs are added, lyrics come out of nowhere, and it’s all just a normal part of the act. After an incredibly enjoyable and impressive set, Soul Coughing said goodbye and waited until the crowd had screamed it’s fair share for more. Then they came back for an encore of one new song on El Oso, their single “Super Bon Bon” from their second album, and then an unexpected version of “Janeane” that required an audience sing-along.

Frontman M. Doughty is one of the most entertaining men to watch on stage, as he makes all kinds of almost robotic hand motions that only help to emphasize the lyrics most of the crowd has memorized yet probably still don’t have the slightest idea as to what they mean. In fact, Soul Coughing is almost exactly what poetry (aside from being a musician, M. Doughty is a poet as well) would sound like if set to music. It’s funky, it’s interesting, and it’s mixed up in such a way that you don’t really know what to expect until it’s happened.

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