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Thursday, Dec 11, 2008
by PopMatters Staff
Words and Pictures by Sachyn Mital

Dedicated fans drove over ninety minutes from Providence to see Mike Doughty perform at Hamden, Connecticut’s The Space for it was the closest show to their city. Doughty was formerly the front man of Soul Coughing, a unique ‘90s alternative band that, like Cake, was hard to categorize as the songs often contained jazz elements and absurd lyrics. While still with the band, Doughty recorded tracks that he would later release as Skittish (his debut solo LP) after the band’s breakup. Since going solo, Doughty has consistently toured the country playing acoustic shows and has also released a handful of albums, EPs, and live recordings, building up his loyal following. While still performing acoustically, Doughty has been touring with his friend, Andrew “Scrap” Livingston, who provided backup on cello and electric guitar. They continue to captivate audiences with their intimate performances and, at least in Hamden, also answered audience questions from a jar.


Over the course of his 21-song set, Doughty almost covered his entire career, including a few hits from the three Soul Coughing albums (“Soft Serve” and “Janine”), a cover (Kenny Rogers “The Gambler”), and songs from his solo albums, plus a new one called “Nectarine Part II”. However when someone asked him to play songs from his even earlier days (Mod Five? though no reference is found on the internet), he did not remember any but was astonished that someone knew those works.


Unifying rollicking guitar strumming with flowing singing, Doughty creates genuinely catchy tunes. With his quirky and sometimes personal lyrics, he is also a very literate singer-songwriter as well. (Though, during “Unsingable Name”, Doughty forgot some lyrics, asked for someone to remind him what they were and then laughed as he proceeded to trip over them again.) Over the nearly two hour show, the audience’s enthusiasm was remarkably high, though a particularly boisterous woman caused consternation by shouting during almost every break. Fortunately, she was silenced after someone loudly acknowledged her as the girl in back who won’t shut up.


Interspersed throughout the songs was a question and answer segment, per Scrap’s request that the audience write some and place them in a jar. Some people wrote song requests such as the oddball “More Bacon than the Pan Can Handle” that Doughty rejected (probably because it contains samples) while others inquired about any possible Soul Coughing reunions. He was often asked about his favorites: candy (grape Laffy Taffy); poem (Alan Dugan’s This Morning Here); and his musical heroes (John Lee Hooker, Billy Bragg, and Ani DiFranco). While Doughty switched guitars, he let Scrap take a stab at the questions and by the end, the two had emptied the jar. All things considered, Mike Doughty is an artist who truly can become a fan’s favorite due to his good shows, catchy music, liberal taping policy, genuine friendliness, and witty humor.



Tagged as: mike doughty
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Wednesday, Dec 10, 2008
Words by Christian John Wikane and Pictures by Craig Bailey/Perspective Photo

Celebrating the 10-year anniversary of Joe’s Pub at the Public Theater, Billy Porter headlined a special two-night run at the famed NYC venue. Accompanied by keyboard, bass, and drums, Porter treated the sold-out audience to what he called contemporary American standards. Whether re-casting Stevie Wonder’s “All I Do”, giving a hair-raising rendition of Elton John’s “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me”, or tossing in rare gems by Oleta Adams and Julia Fordham, Porter held the audience rapt for a flawless 70-minute set. His take on the Marvin Gaye classic “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)”, which also incorporated a rap based on The Beatles’ “Got to Get You Into My Life” and an audience call-and-response, was a riveting tour-de-force.


Though he made no mention of a new album, Porter certainly has a wealth of material to accompany him back into the studio or on the stage, should he release a recording of his latest set. Few performers can make the familiar seem new but, on two bone-chilling nights in New York, Billy Porter excelled in doing just that.



Tagged as: billy porter
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Tuesday, Dec 9, 2008
Words and Pictures by Kirstie Shanley

You never know quite what to expect at a Dresden Dolls show and the same can be said when seeing Amanda Palmer play live. Palmer—one half of the Dresden Dolls—performs intensely personal songs about everything from abortion to coin operated boys. She’s part burlesque, part cabaret, and wholly melodramatic. Though the talented drumming of Brian Viglione was missing, this was about the only difference as Palmer’s theatrics were no surprise for anyone who has seen the Dresden Dolls.


   
Bringing along a complete entourage of dancers and actors (The Danger Ensemble) from Brisbane, Australia, Amanda Palmer prepped the crowd for her appearance with intermittent performances by this troupe and also a reading by author Neil Gaiman, who she is currently working on a project with.
     
Most notably, a tall gothic member of the troupe kept reminding of us of both the title of Palmer’s solo album and the drama at hand by announcing the sad news: “Amanda Palmer is dead!” Of course, the show must go on and pretty soon Palmer was unearthed looking more alive than ever. 
 
Those that are wondering which part of the Dresden Dolls duo drives the songs in terms of their lyrics need look no further than a solo Amanda Palmer show. The songs from her recent album release, Who Killed Amanda Palmer, demonstrate a similar inner turmoil and conflict to the tunes from her main band. Amanda Palmer is, in a strange way, a feminist punk who sings about subjects very few dare to.



     
In addition to her own material, Palmer played quite a few Dresden Dolls songs including “Bad Habit”, “Coin-Operated Boy”, and “Half Jack”. Though it is standard for Dresden Dolls performances to include many additional performance pieces, Palmer used more of them throughout her set as part of the actual songs instead of just between. Whether it was singing about the violence of Columbine or the unlikely cover of Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer”, the force was with and all around her. The dancers even carried props for some songs, such as for the cover of Rihanna’s “Umbrella”
 
On the few songs where she wasn’t accompanied by choreography, a violinist and also the cellist Zoë Keating filled in the songs rather nicely. Though it’s clear the performance element is a part of Palmer’s songs and helps make the evening an interesting event to remember, it’s Palmer herself that is the central reason to attend.



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Monday, Dec 8, 2008
In his final dispatch from Montréal, PopMatters' photographer experiences poutine for the first time, is enchanted by upcoming singer-songwriter Coeur de Pirate and is baffled by Francophone crooner Pierre Lapointe.

Seeing how both of us were flying out the next morning, Kevin and I had no problem figuring out what to eat on Saturday night. Neither of us had ever had poutine—the classic Québécois comfort food—so it seemed almost mandatory that on our last night in town we visit Resto La Banquise, considered by many to be Montréal’s premiere purveyor of poutine.


Resto La Banquise is open 24 hours a day and serves up 25 different varieties of poutine, including an “Elvis Poutine” a “Kamikaze Poutine” and a “T-Rex Poutine”. Being that we were both first-timers, Kevin and I opted for the classic poutine, which consists of french fries topped with cheese curds and chicken velouté sauce (essentially a chicken gravy). The dish is warm, salty and simultaneously soft and crunchy. Good poutine, it’s said, is marked by the freshness of the curds, which should “squeak” when you bite into them. As you might imagine, poutine is a favorite late night snack in Quebec, so its not surprising that Resto La Banquise tends to be packed well into the wee hours of the morning.


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Friday, Dec 5, 2008
by PopMatters Staff
Words and Pictures by Sachyn Mital

The Space in Hamden, Connecticut is a very intimate venue and Kristín Björk Kristjánsdóttir, otherwise known as Kira Kira, told the crowd of about thirty people that her songs took on new meaning when heard in such a cozy place. After checking if anyone was falling asleep, Kristjánsdóttir told one spectator that it would be okay if he did because “we won’t make fun of you if you snore.”


With Alex Somers on the piano and glockenspiel and Kippi Kaninus behind a laptop, Kristjánsdóttir sang and played her guitar as well as some unique inventions of her own making, creating music that other instruments could not. Shining a flashlight into a telephone handset, pressing what looked like a thumb piano, and singing into a tin can equipped with a microphone (all processed through her laptop and other gear), Kira Kira performed songs primarily from the 2008 release Our Map to the Monster Olympics including “Bless”, “Agustskot”, and “One Eyed Waltz”.


In comparison to her fellow Icelanders, Kira Kira’s subtle songs might sound similar to the dreamy amiina—a string quartet often found playing alongside Sigur Rós—while other songs convey a more ominous tone like Jóhann Jóhannsson’s ambient electronic works. Perhaps it is Iceland’s belief in magical beings, like gnomes, elves, and fairies, or its stark terrain that inspires such ethereal music. After playing a new song, Kristjánsdóttir simply told everyone she was finished because she did not want us to wake up from our reverie.



Tagged as: kira kira
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