LOS ANGELES -- Green, cobweb-like images twirled at the back of the
stage as Soul Coughing leader M. (Michael) Doughty sang their new single,
(RealAudio excerpt), in his signature pseudo-rap style.
"I don't need to walk around in circles," he chanted, the crowd framing his
vocals with rhythmic shouts.
Behind Doughty, upright-bassist Sebastian Steinberg delivered his jazz
grooves with fluent strokes, while M'ark de Gli Antoni plunked away
emphatically at his keyboards, his nose no more than a few inches from the
keys. In the back, drummer Yuval Gabay had his head cocked to the side as
he hit the skins.
It may have been a Monday night in Hollywood, but Soul Coughing's show
managed to conjure the feel of a New York underground-club or warehouse,
even in the elegant confines of the Palace. An alternating mix of strobe-
and brightly hued lights -- scattered at different levels about the stage
rather than shining from above -- never detracted from the stage's overall
dark look. Meanwhile, videos ranging from artsy images to cartoon clips
were projected at the back of the stage.
As Soul Coughing celebrated the release of their third LP, El Oso,
on the night before the album hit stores, the visual hodgepodge of their
stageset was complemented by the complexity of the foursome's sound.
Creating an undeniably futuristic mix of art-rock, poetry and hip-hop, Soul
Coughing -- who sprouted from New York's downtown avant/hip-hop scene --
are an intrinsically experimental band, with or without added effects.
El Oso's emphasis on jungle beats translated well live and
heightened the danceable aspects of the show. Still, some songs fell victim
to the foursome's embracing of the drum & bass genre, which gave way to
repetitive patterns that often stalled the group's momentum.
The set was weighted heavily with the band's new material -- including such
standout tunes as the sample-enhanced "$300," with its mantra,
"rollerboogie motherf---er," and the slack, jazzy "Maybe I'll Come Down."
But one of Soul Coughing's earlier hits, 1994's "Bus to Beelzebub," had the
most riling effect on the crowd. "This is the part of the show we call 'low
time,' " Doughty said with a sly drawl before the band launched into the
The long and lanky, glasses-wearing Doughty -- who was dressed in a gray,
button-down shirt untucked over jeans -- made for a geeky-looking frontman.
But when he abandoned his guitar on songs such as "Beelzebub" and assumed a
classic MC stance, his dork factor immediately receded. He paced about the
stage, clutching the mic in his right hand and
perching his left hand level with his head, jolting it at the audience.
"Everybody, for the sake of us, please make a high-pitched squealing
noise," he ordered at one point.
When Doughty let go and moved about, the typically stiff L.A. crowd also
loosened up. Waving their hands wildly, the crammed-tight fans on the
Palace's floor-level danced as extravagantly as the limited space would allow.
"I danced my ass off," said 22-year-old Liliana Somma, who was getting down
on the venue's balcony during the show. "I'd never seen them before tonight
and I thought they were incredible -- funky enough to dance to, that's for
"Super Bon Bon," Soul Coughing's radio-friendly single from their sophomore
effort, Irresistable Bliss (1996), also proved to be a
crowd-pleaser, while the new number "$300" made some headway of its own.
Another new tune, "Blame," featured Doughty thumb-strumming his guitar over
a backdrop of vibrant beats and wandering bass-notes while pink lights
flickered in the background.
Doughty ended the show by inviting the crowd to Tower Records across town,
where the band made a midnight in-store appearance to commemorate El
"We promise everybody who shows up at least two free beers," he said.
He could have promised them anything right about then.