This Mike Doughty article was written by Rachael Smith. Edited by Josh Hummerston
Following the closure of the iconic Leeds rock club, The Cockpit, last year, The Key Club has taken over as the city’s newest, dedicated rock venue. On arrival, fans descend a flight of stairs into the single, underground room that over the last year has played host to some of the biggest names in the genre. The venue is extremely intimate with a low overall capacity and so simply possesses a small stage and bar, with limited floor space and a compact viewing platform situated towards the back. That said, this intimacy no detriment to The Key Club. The close proximity of the crowd to the stage leave the ticket holder in no doubt upon entry that they are about to experience a very personal live performance. It is this factor that gives the venue its edge and accounts for its success.
The 29th of September saw The Key Club open its doors for the 15th Anniversary Tour of pop rockers Wheatus, who rose to fame with their 2000 single ‘Teenage Dirtbag’. Joining them on stage on the night were Gabrielle Sterbenz, The Hipstones and the former Soul Coughing front man, Mike Doughty. One of the most notable aspects of this line-up was that each of these support acts were in fact the side projects of the musicians in Wheatus. They each differed in genre, yet all displayed the individual talents of each member and so, when the band reconvened at the end of the night, the effect was spectacular. The crowd, by then already very familiar with the musicians, greeted the band like old friends as they launched into their brilliant, all-request set.
The only exception to this rule was the inclusion of Mike Doughty in the line-up, who instead incorporated Wheatus into his performance by appointing the headlining act as his backing band. The camaraderie between the two acts on stage and the crowd gave the performance a personal touch, which made the fans feel more like they had been invited to observe a private set of a close friend’s band, rather than attending as a paying spectator. The whole performance carried an endearing quality that created a fantastic atmosphere and truly engaged the crowd throughout.
In addition to marking Wheatus’ fifteenth anniversary, this tour was also a celebration of Mike Doughty’s fifteenth year as a solo artist following the ‘annulment’ of his ‘deeply abusive, emotionally violent marriage’ with his previous band, Soul Coughing. Doughty has always been keen to distance himself from the turbulent history and unpleasant experience of his former band, however, in 2013 he shocked fans by releasing an album of re-recorded Soul Coughing songs: ‘Circles Super Bon Bon’. His intention was to return the tracks to how they were originally intended to sound before they were altered for recording by Soul Coughing. A number of these tracks were included in Doughty’s set list on the night. His re-imagined, pop-infused rendition of the Soul Coughing favourite, ‘True Dreams Of Wichita’, captured the attention of fans with its upbeat tempo, which was only enhanced by Wheatus’ contribution. The reworked ‘St Louise is Listening’ was also well received, yet lacked the hard-hitting edge that the former version had possessed.
Doughty’s distinctive voice, beat poetry inspired lyrics and signature, syncopated guitar-strumming style ensured a memorable performance that will have undoubtedly secured him many new fans amongst the loyal followers. The lead single ‘Light Will Keep Your Heart Beating In The Future’ from his latest album, ‘Stella Motel’, encapsulated all of these elements in a perfect balance of spontaneous poetry, a displaced guitar rhythm in place of the usual banjo strumming and a great backing beat created by the combined efforts of Wheatus. Overall, a very unique and impressive live performance.