Soul Coughing live is a well-planned fun house, designed to
bombard those who enter with a mixture of grooving sounds, Ginsberg-esque
lyrics, and a relentless barrage of pop culture references, both obvious
(lyrics from well known songs) and more obscure (sampled sounds that are
familiar, but difficult to place, as in "Was that from a Bugs Bunny cartoon?").
Making their first ever visit to Tokyo last Monday night (February 3) in a
performance at Club Quattro in Shibuya, the four members of Soul Coughing
ambled on stage (Sebastian Steinberg lugging his upright bass, Mark De Gli
Antoni sitting down behind his smaller-than-you-would-have-thought-necessary
sampling keyboard, M. Doughty grinning at center stage as he plugs in his green
hollow-body Fender guitar, and Yuval Gabay taking his position behind a simple
drum kit) a little after 7 P.M. to greet a respectful young Japanese audience
that had no idea what to expect.
And the fun began. Doughty strummed a few
chords and casually leaned into the mic. He began singing: "Life is a
mystery..." and it took a few seconds before the audience realized he was
singing Madonna's "Like A Prayer." They ditched Madonna after the first verse,
veering at right angle into the first song off their 1994 debut, Ruby
Vroom, "Is Chicago, Is Not Chicago."
First thing you notice (after
noting how incredibly tight this band is, with the rhythm section of Steinberg
and Gabay cruising along the highway of funk as if linked telepathically) is
Doughty's hand gestures--it is as if his hands are somehow infused with tiny
little brains that demand the right to interpret the music as it happens. The
hand gestures, most often causing Doughty's arms to suggest windshield wipers
in front of his face, evolve into full-body angular interpretations of the
music. Looking urban cool in a black windbreaker zipped up to the neck, Doughty
is a man who can't stand still on stage. Continuing the theme of covering women
pop singers, he sang a verse of Whitney Houston's "I'm Every Woman" in the
middle of "Casiotone Nation."...
Mark De Gli Antoni, introduced by Doughty as "America's
favorite teenager," was seated at stage right, and caused a disparate series of
sounds to be emitted from his keyboard / hard disk, The Andrew's Sisters,
entire symphony orchestras, seagulls, telephone conversations. The usual stuff.
In the middle of the set, Soul Coughing played the first of two new songs:
"Miss the Girl." It started off as a slow vamp, building in intensity as Yuval
Gabay, who had dropped references to Drum and Bass and Jungle rhythms
throughout their second album, Irresistible Bliss, demonstrated with
teeth-gritting determination his ability to perform the amped-up Drum and Bass
sound on an old fashioned, strictly analog drum kit.
Gabay was beaming, and
the audience was screaming, at the end of this inspiring foray into the land of
techno. (I spoke with De Gli Antoni after the show and he confirmed it for me:
"Yuval basically only listens to Drum 'n' Bass, ever since it came out." He
also told me that the new songs came together as a result of a week and a half
long session in preparation for recording the follow-up to Irresistible
After inserting a few verses of "A Day in The Life" in the
middle of "True Dreams of Wichita," which Doughty described as being a "make
out number," the singer sat down on the stage in front of his amp, lit up a
cigarette, and took a break, while De Gli Antoni went off on an ambient
interlude, that turned into the beat-poetry of "Screenwriter's Blues" (which
also got the Jungle treatment from Gabay). They closed the set with two up-beat
songs, "Mr. Bitterness," and "Super Bon Bon," with the audience dancing along
as if they were at a rave.
"Thanks for liking us," said a smiling Doughty,
after Soul Coughing were called back by a screaming audience. They opened the
encore with the second new song of the evening, "I Know," which begins with the
following line: "New York, New York, I don't want to go back." These are strong
words from a band that has always had an air of the Knitting Factory about
them. As it turns out, Gabay is the only member of Soul Coughing who still
lives in New York. Steinberg and Doughty live in Florida, and De Gli Antoni now
lives in San Francisco.
Steinberg and Gabay opened up "Blue Eyed Devil"
into a free-form extended jam session, and the three-song mini-set concluded
with "Down To This," in the middle of which the band broke into a cartoon-like
interpretation of the Black Sabbath classic, "War Pigs." High fives were
exchanged with members of the audience in front of the stage, and again the
band exited, stage right, and again, the crowd called them back.
final song of the evening Soul Coughing delivered a coda-like rendition of
their slow jam, "Sleepless," sending the Tokyo audience home with heads full of
good humor and hands gesturing in angular, windshield-wiper motions.