As frontman of Soul Coughing, M. Doughty presented himself as an urban hipster, writing his motor-mouthed songs as much in thrall to the Beats as to the Beastie Boys. Pulling into the Troubadour on Saturday night as leader of Mike Doughty’s Band, he’s metamorphosed into a neo-hippie crooner, a bohemian for the jam band set.
“Band” might be too strong a word for what shows up on stage — Doughty is accompanied by Thomas Bartlett on keyboards (whose jazzy playing was the set’s highlight) and Shahzad Ismaily, the latter looking bored by the evening’s proceedings, sitting off to one side, occasionally adding percussion.
But then again, Doughty doesn’t really need the backup. He sounded most comfortable during the set’s short solo section, where he turned his dance-floor collaboration with BT, “Never Gonna Come Back Down,” and the Soul Coughing favorite “Super Bon Bon” into jittery folk.
When the band backed him on “Sugar Plant” and “27 Jennifers” (from the self-released “Rockity Roll” EP), they made you yearn for the crisp angularity of Soul Coughing’s rhythm section, Sebastian Steinberg and Yavul Gabay. Without them, Doughty sounds like a caffeinated version of G Love and Jack Johnson.
Opener Keaton Simons also drew from Johnson in the unhurried reggae sway that’s become as much a touchstone of modern surf music as the tremolo-drenched Stratocaster was for surf music 40 years ago. The oceanic metaphors of the soulfully mellow “Currently” (the title track from his Maverick EP) would sound perfect around a beach bonfire. The 25-year-old session guitarist gets to show off his chops when the music picks up, the song’s spacious blues recalling “Band of Gypsies”-era Hendrix.
Kelly Stoltz, hammocked between Doughty and Simons, also shone on guitar, impressing with his Tom Verlaine- and Lou Reed-influenced solos, adding an arty edge to his catchy, energetic garage rock.