On the Mike: Rocker Doughty returns to W’burg with ninth solo album

A Soul performer: Musician Mike Doughty, once the lead singer of Sould Coughing, will play a solo show at the Music Hall of Williamsburg on March 3.
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For this rocker, Brooklyn comes first.

Indie musician and former Brooklynite Mike Doughty will return to Kings County this Friday, stopping first at the Music Hall of Williamsburg on March 3 before playing a show the next night in the distant isle of Manhattan. The former frontman of the band Soul Coughing, now touring with his solo album “The Heart Watches While the Brain Burns,” may have moved to Memphis in 2015, but says he is not penning any “Goodbye to New York” letters.

“I’m not one of those dicks who’re like, ‘New York is over.’ That’s dumb, in my opinion,” he said. “It was just time for me to change. I wanted to buy a house, live cheaply, all that kind of stuff.”

In fact, the latest video from the album, for the song “I Can’t Believe I Found You In That Town” was filmed in Coney Island. Doughty stayed in Memphis, but turned over the reins to Brooklyn filmmaker Max Skaff, who also performs as rapper Uncle Meg.

“He is just great, so I gave him the budget I had and said ‘Just make it a love story, I don’t care what kind. Just, kind of make it obvious that it’s my song,’ ” said Doughty.

The resulting video shows sideshow barker Mr. Strange hawking Mike Doughty–branded t-shirts, while a cute couple flirts and plays carnival games in Luna Park. Doughty said the result was better than any of the videos he made while on a major label.

“I was at Warner Brothers — they gave me a ton of money to make videos and none of them are worth a damn,” he said. “Max is just amazing, he made this beautiful film.”

The solo musician is also collaborating on his latest tour. After leaving Soul Coughing in 2000, Doughty released nine solo albums filled with clever lyrics, electronic bloops, and churning acoustic guitars, all played by the artist himself. But this tour involves a full band, and Doughty had to create a system to help the other members follow him in the loose, freewheeling set structure he developed as solo performer.

“It’s all improvised in the show, I do these hand signals to say, ‘Loop back to the beginning,’ or to stop and start. So you’ll watch me conducting the band,” said Doughty. “It’s kind of like a James Brown show.”

The set list varies every night, so longtime fans might hear their favorite song — or they might not. It’s just a matter of logistics, said Doughty.

“I’ve got nine full albums; 12 if you count Soul Coughing. When I play shows, I have tried to do at least one song from every album, but I have more albums than I have time,” he said.

But there is one song you will definitely not hear in the set. Since 2002, Doughty has urged audiences to stop shouting requests for “Freebird,” and instead call for “It’s Raining Men” — a song he cannot play.

“I think it’s better if I never learn,” he said. “But I’m trying to spread it. I hope people start yelling ‘It’s Raining Men’ at Foo Fighters concerts.”

See Mike Doughty at the Music Hall of Williamsburg [66 N. Sixth St. between Kent and Wythe avenues in Williamsburg, (718) 486–5400,]. March 3 at 8 pm. $25.

Reach arts editor Bill Roundy at or by calling (718) 260–4507.
Updated 10:17 pm, July 9, 2018
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