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Mike Doughty puts 'idiosyncratic' sound to good use

| Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2009

Mike Doughty, who performs today and Friday at Club Cafe, South Side, might be better off telling fortunes or working on Wall Street.

Whenever he releases a new album, there are fans who question why it doesn't sound like his previous effort. Two years later, those same listeners have embraced the record they initially dismissed and look askance at his new batch of songs.

It's never easy being ahead of the curve.

"It progresses, and I am continually unable to learn from all the criticism that comes in," Doughty says with a laugh. "It just crushes me. But look, two years from now, everyone is going to like it. It's just my own myopia, I guess."

Perhaps Doughty's new release, "Sad Man Happy Man," will be the album that finds the artist and his fans in sync. It's one of Doughty's more diverse efforts, the first five songs burnished with an effervescent pop veneer, and the rest of the music taking on a rawer, more immediate tone.

It's as if he were writing with the demarcation of old vinyl records in mind.

"The old-school, side A/side B geography, is not to be sneezed at," Doughty says.

That dichotomy also showcases Doughty's ability to write breezy, engaging pop tunes that are instantly memorable and songs that are the long-lost descendants of the Velvet Underground.

"Musically, I embraced the weirdness of my guitar sound," Doughty says. "I have this rhythm that's very idiosyncratic. I really tried to straighten it out on 'Golden Delicious' (his previous release) by sort of tailoring everything to the drums and the drummer. But this time, it was like, I play strangely and let's make sure that the strangeness of the guitar gets in.

"Maybe this is stuff that just dogs can hear, but there's a certain kind of way that I'm a little too late or a little too early when I play certain notes on the guitar."

Doughty first came to prominence in Soul Coughing, a band whose moderate success in the 1990s was bolstered immensely by a devoted fan base. Even though that group disbanded in 2000, Doughty's solo career is all too often measured by his work on the albums "Ruby Vroom," "Irresistible Bliss" and "El Oso."

The converse of that is that Doughty's career is now so long that there are fans who have not heard of his prior association.

"It's nice to be able to approach a listener without the history," he says. "In the words of George Michael, they can 'Listen Without Prejudice,' a title that's come to mean a lot to me. ... I'm lucky in that I have an audience that is partially very steeped in the history of what I've been doing, and partially just heard it on the radio and is pretty new to it."

Doughty is doing three shows in Pittsburgh, two today and one Friday. Each will be unique because his solo catalog is large enough that he doesn't have to do the same show over and over again. Fans also will be able to buy copies of the show they've just seen after the concerts are over.

Doughty also professes an earnest affection for Pittsburgh that extends beyond the obligatory artist's nod to wherever they are performing.

"I've heard people call it the Seattle of the East, which I think is very accurate," he says. "It's a very atmospheric city, with the bridges and the hills and the rivers."

Additional Information:

Mike Doughty

When: 7 and 10 p.m. today, 9:30 p.m. Friday (sold out)

Admission: $16

Where: Club Cafe , South Side

Details: 412-431-4950

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