It’s a Big Life for Me: Mike Doughty at the Blind Pig
There’s a line out in front of The Blind Pig. It’s cold, way too cold for March. I take my place and the line fills the sidewalk.
Two drunk women are standing behind me. They start talking to me, introduce themselves. One’s white and one’s black. The black one’s name is Monique and she looks kind of like Crazy Eyes from Orange is the New Black. She’s really drunk and maybe on something else as well. I can’t remember what the other one’s name is, but she looked like Professor Trelawney from Harry Potter, sort of.
“Good to be in line with you,” Monique says.
The line shuffles slowly. They’re checking IDs at the door. It’s standing room only, the place is crowded. I go downstairs and piss before getting a place near the stage. I look at the wall of pictures of all the bands that played here on their path to the bigtime, the most notable being Nirvana.
Upstairs, the floor fills quickly as people come in from the cold. The chairs and bar spaces around the perimeter are already taken. The stage is set with instruments and mic stands that look like they’ve been painted white, and the lights are all blue.
Wheatus comes on, the singer wearing a t-shirt with a shark vomiting a rainbow. There’s three female back-up singers. The band looks very young. Brendan B Brown looks younger than his 45 years, but not that young.
They don’t do a setlist, instead playing requests from the audience. They dance, it’s energetic. They look like a teacher with his music room geek hipster students doing a sort of recital.
They play Rush’s Time Stands Still. They play Teenage Dirtbag and it’s 2000 again for a few minutes. They close with a song called Lemonade that Mike Doughty requested they close with.
I switch spots, as being in crowds nowadays makes me nervous. Not wanting to block anyone’s view with my 6 feet of space, I find a spot in the back by the sound board. I reflect on how the bandmates were in diapers when Teenage Dirtbag was a hit, and not even born when Soul Coughing was around.
The crowd knows their songs, and Brendan seems surprised and pleased. He banters with everyone, a charming, charismatic, aging nerd.
They finish and Brendan says they’re going to find a phone booth so they can turn into Mike Doughty’s band.
The inside of my left ear itches from the earplugs I’m using.
The children of Wheatus break down their own equipment on set. This is nuts and bolts touring, no glamor.
The crowd is old — they look to be 40 average though they appear younger in the dim colored matte lights.
I must be getting old myself it occurs to me how late it is. I have to be up at 5. Who starts at show at 10 on a Tuesday?
A guy stands in front of me. Directly in front of me. I wonder if he’s going to move. He’s got short red hair and glasses, looks like a douchbag accountant.
When it becomes clear he isn’t moving, I put a hand on his shoulder.
“Hey, why don’t you commit to the right and I’ll commit to the left and we’ll both get our 20 dollars worth,” I say.
He pretends to not have noticed me, agrees, tries to make conversation. He asks if the first band was entertaining.
Half an hour goes by, and Mike appears stageside.
He takes the stage with a green hollow body electric and plays Super Bon Bon and Circles. The place immediately lights up. As with all good musicians, Mike only shows his true power live and in person. Even recordings of him playing live don’t do him justice. His voice is raspy and thick and full of low end. It mixes well with the distorted guitar. I prefer his solo work but tonight he’s doing Soul Coughing’s 1994 debut album Ruby Vroom in its entirety. Super Bon Bon and Circles are the only two songs he plays not on the album.
“I have a good feeling about this,” he tells us.
The rest of the band joins him — it’s the the drummer from Wheatus on drums, the bassist from Wheatus on sampler, Brendan B Brown on guitar, and Mike’s old touring buddy Andrew “Scrap” Livingston on bass/cello. Mike introduces them all.
“I’m in the prime of my little life,” Andrew announces into the mic next to him.
“It’s a big life to me,” says Mike.
“My life is prime,” says Andrew.
“Your Amazon is prime,” says Mike. “Your Optimus is prime.”
They start playing. They are fresh. They are crispy. They catch the wave and ride it. They sound bigger and thumpier than this dingy little room deserves. They take over.
I’m packed into my corner and I can’t help but smile at the vibe.
Mike banters with Scrap — “What’s the opposite of contra?” “Nontra.” They banter so much I can’t write it all down.
I get out of my little corner, feeling too boxed in, go to the back of the crowd which ends by the merch table which is piloted by a small blonde woman who looks to be in her mid thirties. She gives me a little smile then goes back to her phone. There’s a dry erase board that says, “Tag @MikeDoughty, we’ll make you mildly famous!”
I see the drunk woman Monique getting a stern talking to by the bartender. She must’ve been misbehaving. She dances sadly by herself next to the exit door, eyes closed. There’s no sign of her line-mate friend.
Mike talks about his Patreon and the song-a-week enterprise he maintains, he expresses gratitude as all our dollars are going to pay for the big fucking tour bus outside.
The merch woman is named Scully, as Mike introduces her. He thanks us again for taking an interest in his career all these years.
“I know I’ve been kind of a dick sometimes,” he says. “I guess I did what I had to do.”
They keep going. The band is on fucking point. The drummer, who Mike keeps referring to as Lil Peppa, has straight black hair and sets off my gaydar. She is popping. Heavy, heavy slams, but dead in the pocket. I love it. She makes the band and everyone knows it.
Mike points to each band member during the songs, doing an Erykah Badu thing where they stop playing until he brings them back in. He does this randomly. After the clusterfuck that was Soul Coughing, Mike is here 20 years later finally exercising the control he wanted. He’s Sting after The Police. It’s really cool, but that doesn’t convey my excitement at witnessing this particular stunt. I wonder if Soul Coughing would’ve been more successful had they allowed him to do this. Or maybe he did pull this off and I don’t know because I wasn’t there.
He keeps introducing the band, song after song. I never hear the drummer’s real name well enough — Merren Class or something like it. The Wheatus bassist is named Matthew Milligan, the pride of Nova Scotia. Andrew and Brandon and Mike. They’re a motley bunch — two college kids, the guitar player from Wheatus, Scrap Livingston and Mike Doughty, fucking tearing up The Blind Pig and all the Gen X’ers and elder Millennials it can fit.
I check the setlist online— he’s not doing any other songs after Ruby Vroom, so I bail three songs from the end of the album during Uh, Zoom Zip. I’ve gotten my 20 dollars worth.
It’s fucking snowing out again, and someone drew a dick and a “sad cat” in the dust on the side of Mike’s big fucking bus.