For many years, Mike Doughty was resolute about not playing songs by his former band Soul Coughing, who scored a few alternative radio hits during its mid-to-late ’90s run with its quirky and beguiling mix of rock, jazz, hip-hop, and electronic music.
Saturday night at the Paradise the singer-songwriter finally, gloriously, returned to that well for his “Mike Doughty (Used to be in Soul Coughing) Tour.” Given how successful the 90-minute show was — and how eagerly the crowd received it — he may have wondered why he didn’t do it sooner.
As he noted in his 2012 memoir, “Book of Drugs,” among the reasons that Doughty shied away from the material is that he wasn’t always thrilled with the final product. To that end he recently rerecorded and released a clutch of Soul Coughing tunes and it was those rejiggerings that he brought to the Paradise.
With the expert help of drummer Pete Wilhoit and bassist Catherine Popper — and a sampler and a pair of turntables on which he played prerecorded tracks — the show was a stone groove from the opening zip of “Is Chicago, Is Not Chicago” to the benign pop froth of closer “Circles,” only occasionally drifting into a drony ether.
Although many of the tunes were rebuilt — sometimes stripped back like the spare rendition of the ballad “Janine,” or built up with new layers, as on an epic “Screenwriter’s Blues” that interpolated a jittery bit of the Who’s “Eminence Front” — the tunes remained recognizable enough for the crowd to let out what felt like long-awaited sing-alongs.
Doughty, himself was in great, grainy voice as he sidled through tunes like “Super Bon Bon” and “True Dreams of Wichita” in his mesmerizing crooning-spoken word-rapping style, repeating and circling phrases, speeding up and doubling back with grace and grit. He was also clearly in good spirits, buoyed by the crowd response. Although not particularly chatty, he recalled the first time a crowd sang along with his songs was downstairs at the Middle East in the mid-’90s. He thought something was wrong with the speakers.
There was nothing wrong with the speakers Saturday night — although for some Doughty fans, the dream would be that he would simply combine the two parts of his career, as his solo material was sorely missed.