Unlike the rest of the week, the night was crisp and chilly this past Tuesday, so patrons crammed inside Gasa Gasa for a great double header show. Mike Doughty, on a staggering 49-city tour for his new album The Heart Watches While the Brain Burns, made a stop in NOLA, one of his favorite cities, with Wheatus from New York. Doughty is widely known as the former frontman/songwriter for the alternative rock/trip hop band, Soul Coughing. However, with determination to separate himself from the past, he has released 18 studio albums since beginning his solo career in 2000. (All of which are fantastic.) Wheatus is an indie rock band formed in New York in 1995 by Brendan B. Brown, and interestingly they have had 28 different members apart from Brown since their first album.
A pleasant surprise, Wheatus began promptly at 8:00 p.m. and performed all their hits including “Teenage Dirtbag” as a three piece with Brown on guitar/vocals, Gabrielle Aimée Sterbenz on backing vocals, and Matthew Milligan playing upright electric bass. Diehard fans belted the lyrics of their favorites. The set was minimal but charming. After their songs, Wheatus revealed to the audience that they would remain on stage and be Mike Doughty’s band for the evening. Sterbenz picked up an electric guitar and provided backing vocals, Brown played electric guitar, and Milligan played electric organ. They were joined by Andrew “Scrap” Livingston on cello, “Indiana” Pete Wilhoit on drums, and of course Mike Doughty.
In the early 1990’s before Soul Coughing, Doughty worked as a doorman at a bar in New York that hosted some weekly musical acts, such as John Zorn’s “Cobra”, which Doughty eventually became involved with. Cobra was a name given to a game played on stage between a lineup of rotating musicians and a conductor who would draw colored cards to coordinate ways in which the improvised tunes would change. Doughty has taken this concept on the road with him for this winter tour.
When he came to the stage, the other musicians watched Mike intently. They opened the set with “Lazybones” from SC’s Irresistible Bliss. The parts the others would play were determined solely by Mike’s hand gestures. When he pointed at one of them, they would either start playing or stop, and so on. The result was an epic, live remix of each tune. The setlist was a solid balance of old Soul Coughing songs reimagined on the spot including “Circles,” “True Dreams of Wichita” and even “Bus to Beelzebub,” with songs from his solo albums such as “Rational Man,” “Light Will Keep Your Heart Beating in the Future,” and “I Can’t Believe I Found You in That Town” from his new record. The band followed him flawlessly and executed a snowflake from every track, even blending some songs together. It was heartwarming and brain burning to watch Mike joyously conduct his musical world onstage, finally having found the artistic freedom he always desired. They closed the night with a glorious mashup of “So Far I Have Not Found the Science” and “St. Louise is Listening.”