Mike Doughty's most recent CD, "Haughty Melodic," was released on Dave Matthews's label, and the new tunes Doughty introduced Wednesday at the 9:30 club had a lot in common with his boss's output.
"American Car" had all the melody and lyrical nonsensicality that Matthews fans could want. "Unsingable Name" and "Looking at the World From the Bottom of a Well," which have a bigger sound than anything else in Doughty's songbook, conjure Peter Gabriel. Absent its lyrical content, his tirade against suburban revolutionaries, "Busting Up a Starbucks," is the sort of middle-of-the-road soft-rock the coffee giant would put on its musical compilations.
Before going solo in 2000, the charismatic Doughty fronted Soul Coughing, a New York act with lite-rap tendencies. "St. Louise Is Listening" was one of the few overt nods to his former job. But even on his own, Doughty occasionally exudes the forced quirkiness his ex-band was accused of exuding: At one point he put down his acoustic guitar and stood behind a digital sampler to hit buttons that triggered recorded slogans -- "You must chill!" "I love you, man!" -- while his backing trio played a brand of declawed funk associated with Rickie Lee Jones.
The night's covers, including "It's Raining Men" and "Hungry Like the Wolf," also seemed cute for cute's sake. Doughty's sincere re-creation of Kenny Rogers's "The Gambler," however, proved to be the night's highlight.
The crowd in the balcony had thinned considerably by the end of the 90-minute set. But fans who were in for a dime were in for a dollar: Doughty coaxed those who stayed to alternately whisper, sing and scream along on the show closer, "Stand in the Light," which includes lines with Matthewsesque meaninglessness such as "I can be the air you drink."
-- Dave McKenna