Last week, I was invited to attend a rather intimate affair with musician Mike Doughty at the Rubin Museum of Art. As part of the museum’s Naked Soul sessions, Mike was performing a solo acoustic show for a small, yet thrilled audience. The last time Mike was at the museum was back in 2012. I loved the space and the show. Please see below for my account of it all!
First off, I headed over to the Rubin after watching a dance performance in Bryant Park on a beautiful Friday evening. The Rubin is an amazing place. It is a jazz club and an art gallery combined. People were already funneling into the museum, not just for Mike’s show, but to take part in the bar located just past the entrance. New Yorkers were preparing for the weekend well. Mike was set to entertain downstairs in the performance theater. Walking down a winding staircase, I pushed open a glass door into a waiting room in which a small crowd was lingering. Ladies were sipping on their wine and I started to gauge that it was a 30+ year-old crowd. Along the wall there were gorgeous posters and artwork of various Buddhist mandalas that hung next to strange anatomy pieces. People were drinking upstairs and slowly bringing their beverages downstairs to prepare for the show. Everyone was loud and happy as more couples came in. People also began perusing the merchandise stand for Mike’s records and awesome tour posters. There was a lot of great color in his merchandise that was perfect for the night.
Once the time came for us to enter the theater, people lined up and walked on through. It was a small theater with maroon chairs scattered about. In front lay a small and cozy stage with a single chair in the middle. Fans were glad that they could bring their drinks in and were sipping with content. It was a mini jazz hall that was filled with many reserved seats that were later filled by family and friends of Mike. After a short wait, a representative of the museum gave a brief introduction and Mike wandered onstage with a smile and a wave to the audience. He was rocking a hat and his signature thick, dark-rimmed glasses as he took his seat. He got right into it. As his acoustic guitar began making sounds with his playing, his feet tapped the ground and he had a little dance like Dave Matthews as he hit his stride. You could do an entire show on his dancing feet. For those of you who do not know Mike’s work, his music sounds like a mix of Cake meets Elvis Costello.
Throughout the show he was always telling one long story through his music supported by his themes and feelings. He even paid his respects to a detailed painting that was revealed behind him via a projector of an ancient God of destruction. As he shared his thoughts and stories, his demeanor reminded me of a farmer boy who would sit on the porch or on NYC stoops and simply explored the day by playing his music along with his storytelling. He was definitely a fun man to watch.
The theme of his show and ultimately most of his music is based upon destruction and sadness. He even declared that he preferred break up songs rather than love songs. He admires songs of desperation. He talked about his battle with drugs and the difficult struggle with denial of which he stated is a powerful thing. One song he preformed actually was started the day before 9/11. He then mentioned that he had finished it days following the tragic events. Strangely enough, the song was a love song on the surface that eventually grew into devastation. He is a strange man to listen to but equally entertaining as he joked and made us all laugh. Where his dark themes permeate, his music revitalizes. You feel good listening to the sounds of his music. Even if the lyrics remain dark, you cannot help but tap your foot and enjoy it all.
As he finished his set, he stood up to a round of applause and spun his guitar, which had the words, ‘thanks,’ written on the back. Representatives of the Rubin then presented him with a ceremonial silk scarf that each gust receives at the event. Fans clamored back to the merchandise table eagerly awaiting Mike, who kindly provided autographs. It was a great and unusual summer evening.