When you're checking out a rock concert on a Saturday night, the last thing you expect to see is signs asking the audience to be quiet, but that's the first thing I saw on the way up the stairs of Empire Dine and Dance. The postings informed concertgoers that Doughty was intending his performance to be "quiet in nature." Guidelines in mind, it worried me that Empire would seem more like a classroom than a music venue. As opener Jennings took the stage, the teacher's pets who had gotten there early sat politely at their dinner-table desks while the bad apples stood in back by the bar shooting spitballs and sneaking Playboys into their textbooks. Come to think of it, they were actually just getting bombed and talking over Jennings' one-girl-and-a-keyboard show, but it still felt like grammar school in a way. Unwilling to commit to one clique of pupils or the other, I plopped myself in the ecotone between the candlelit culture of the room's front and the rowdy drunks in the back.
Jennings had a strong voice, but seeing as it was only her one voice competing with the dozens of folks behind me, it was difficult to fully appreciate the subtleties of her set. Fortunately, Jennings didn't let crowd disinterest bother her, setting a lighthearted tone for the night that culminated in a cover of Rihanna's "Umbrella" (yeah, the "ella, ella, ella" one). The mood translated into Doughty's set, and was immediately apparent from the second he stepped onstage with his accompanist and partner in crime, Andrew "Scrap" Livingston. Throughout the night, Livingston not only supported Doughty with solid backing instrumentation on cello and electric guitar, but he also kept things fun and upbeat in between songs.
And fortunately, "quiet" didn't mean serious, as Doughty and Livingston's playful chemistry led to many a joke. The acoustic comedy duo cracked wise about everything from the random barber chairs they were performing in, to the disco ball that turned on partway through the set. Doughty was even willing to make fun of himself, laughing off an early miscue in "Madeline And Nine" before finishing the song. Between the jokes, Doughty rewarded the loyal fans who made the show sell out quickly by playing career-spanning hits including a stripped down rendition of "Circles," a mainstream hit from his days fronting Soul Coughing. It was fun to hear Soul Coughing's '90s alt-rock get Doughty's folky solo treatment, but the audience was more receptive to Doughty's recent material, calling out their favorite songs all night and going nuts when Doughty performed them.
While many singer/songwriter performances fall flat midway through due to their lack of variety, Livingston and Doughty maintained a spontaneous vibe by answering a jar full of questions audience members had written down before the set. This not only offered fans a window into their beloved songwriter's mind, but also distracted from lull moments that can sink a stereotypical singer/songwriter show. Intimate is a grossly overused word when describing such a performance, but the way Doughty opened up to the crowd really was unique and touching.
Being a guy, though, I don't like to dwell on feelings and shit, so let's get back to the jokes. Poking fun at the tradition of encores, Doughty closed his set by explaining how he was about to play the fake last song, after which he would take a break for a minute before coming back in a moment of superficial spontaneity to play two more songs. After the fake last song, Doughty and Livingston didn't even leave the stage; they simply turned around in their barber's chairs for about a minute before making their triumphant return of sorts. When they came back around, the duo played a sing-along for the party crew in the back, a cover of Kenny Rogers' "The Gambler" that strangely got the wildest crowd reaction of the night. Maybe it wouldn't have been strange if I had pre-gamed by shotgunning PBRs and playing Rock Band, but to my sober, un-hip self, the crowd karaoke seemed like a peculiar climax. After "Gambler," Doughty finished with "Looking At The World Through The Bottom Of A Well," and he didn't even scold the crowd for their raucous applause. For a show intending to be "quiet in nature," Doughty generated an exciting dose of noise.