When Brooklyn three-piece Moon Hooch stormed the stage with deep-pocket drumming from James Muschler and duelling star saxophones (brought to you by Wenzl McGowen and Mike Wilbur) they touched down like a multiple-vortex tornado. Their contagious enthusiasm and virtuoso playing got the steadily filling Biltmore bouncing, with a Lounge Lizards-esque vibe simultaneously obliging, energizing, and endearing in turns — especially when McGowen explained to the rabble that they were just a trio of buskers 18 months ago. Mike Doughty saw the group performing at a subway station and they’ve since signed to Doughty’s label and begun touring with him.
And while Moon Hooch’s lip service was warranted, there’s been a bit of scuttlebutt in certain circles of late, apropos of Mike Doughty, formerly of ‘90s-era NYC alternative rock combatants Soul Coughing. Having been an admirer back in the day (it’s been almost 15 years since I last saw him perform), I’d been looking forward to catching up with Doughty for some time. His somewhat scathing memoir from 2012, The Book of Drugs, and his recent release, Circles, Super Bon Bon, and The Very Best Of Soul Coughing, all spoke ill and somewhat hostile of his former bandmates. Any concerns of a curmudgeon bludgeoning the stage were dashed as soon as the personable luminary arose before his fans.
“You all look fantastic,” Doughty announced to the crowd before launching straight into “Is Chicago, Is Not Chicago” affably. Obviously elated, he then led his tight trio — drums and a stand-up bass — into a searing rendition of “Sugar Free Jazz” and then a boisterous “Bus to Beelzebub.” As the set continued, it became apparent that Doughty and company were rewarding their longtime devotees open handedly. Tracks like “Lazy Bones,” “Unmarked Helicopters,” and “Soft Serve” curlicued the room, as some seriously sweltering pogoing on the dance floor made it feel like it was the summer of ’97 all over again.
Allowing his crackerjack band a brief breather, Doughty turned keen turntablist, laying some rhymes over top some fabulously phat beats. His beat poet satiated the band came back and, as the set wound down “Super Bon Bon” and “Circles” gave ginormous grins to the thrilled and beaming throng. Mike Doughty certainly brought a lot of miscellany and refurbishing to his mostly recognizable song cycle, and his hunky-dory demeanour hinted at a contented and revived performer. Judging by the smiling mugs of folks filing out after the show, the night was an indelible knockout.