Whirling like a postmodern dervish through the dimly lit 9:30 club Wednesday night, Soul Coughing front man Michael Doughty repeated the same words over and over: "Get onto the bus . . . that's gonna take you back to Beelzebub!" Driven by the nearly melody-free cacophony of lyrics, upright bass, drums and the occasional scratch of a turntable, the crowd obediently wiggled its way around the band's tight 90-minute set, not stopping to ponder what the guru was saying. Apparently it didn't matter
That Doughty's lyrics fly over, or at least by, the heads of his audience during Soul Coughing performances isn't a problem. In fact, it's an asset. In a band that brings together old-fashioned hip-hop, old-school jazz and New School poetry, the secret to success lies is not letting one artistic facet overwhelm the other. Soul Coughing strikes this balance well.
The band's sound has an ahead-of-its-time feel, but that hasn't stopped it from developing a fanatically loyal fan base and a repertoire of recognizable songs showcasing Doughty's own brand of singing. On its biggest hit to date, the single "Circles," the singer's voice barely flirts with a hint of melody, infusing the normally bass- and beat-driven output with a smidgen of traditional musical quality.
It may be a shame that the band's least experimental song is the one that made it well enough known to headline at the 9:30. But it's just enough to let us know that, despite its cutting-edge character, Soul Coughing isn't putting us on.