When a band chooses a name like Sons of Hippies, there are a few things I expect. The first is that they are actually sons, so I was surprised to see the lead singer was a girl. With a name like that, I expected they would either be terrible, like so many openers I’ve seen at the nearby Pabst Theater, or totally awesome, like the equally oddly named Donkeys who had opened for the Hold Steady here a few years ago. Instead they were fine, perfectly listenable but not very memorable.
I don’t remember if I ever saw Soul Coughing during their three record run in the Nineties. I feel like I must have at one of the many “New Music Festivals” I went to during that time, but I can’t say for sure. Lead singer M Doughty has arguably become more popular under his own name since then, releasing catchy, but not as dancey, singer-songwriter fare for the hipster crowd. But he obviously still enjoys playing these songs. Look no further than the tongue-in-cheek name of the show, billed as “M Doughty used to be in Soul Coughing,” for evidence.
The songs from El Oso, Irresistible Bliss and Ruby Vroom have held up well, just as insistent and intriguing as they were when I first heard them. In opening song “This Is Chicago (This Is Not Chicago)” Doughty presents us with the troubling image of a man flying a plane into the Chrysler Building, though his monotone voice belies any emotion. For the next hour he played all the best from those records, the only notable no-show was “Soundtrack to Mary,” the first song I ever heard from Soul Coughing, appropriately on the Something About Mary soundtrack. For most of the songs he played guitar, backed by the unlikely duo of an adorably waif-like girl dwarfed by her upright bass and the actor-handsome dude behind the drum kit. For others he stepped over to play the small box with keys that I don’t have a name for. He excused the band to play DJ for a short set of songs, cuing up records to provide the whirling backing tracks.
In a night full of familiar favorites, the stand-out track was “Unmarked Helicopters” from the excellent X Files soundtrack, which featured music from the show as well as songs inspired by it. I still remember hearing Doughty’s paranoid piece in an episode all those years ago. “They said it was a weather balloon,” the obviously doubting Doughty says. Totally killer. Some of the silliest songs from his catalog are the best. “Circles” with its repeated chant of “I don’t need to walk around circles, walk around in circles, walk around in circles,” does just that in your head. It’s the repetition that makes these songs so easy to groove to. “Super Bon Bon” doesn’t have one sensical line in the whole song, but its infectiousness is inescapable. While I couldn’t possibly have been enjoying it as much as the guy behind us who I am pretty sure was having an orgasm, I was definitely wearing my own satisfied smile.