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Pop Music Review

Soul Coughing Picks Up the Funk Level in Palace Show

September 30, 1998|NATALIE NICHOLS

In a raw, often electrifying performance at the Palace on Monday, the New York group Soul Coughing mutated its cerebral groove into a more visceral affair, reflecting the funkier vibe and broader emotional range of its new album, "El Oso."

Although frontman M. Doughty's nerd-emcee antics and impressionistic lyrics naturally commanded the appreciative crowd's attention, the band's art-rock/hip-hop fusion of guitar, samples, stand-up bass, beats and live drums took on a compelling life of its own throughout the 90-minute set. The players cannily reworked several older favorites, making such familiar numbers as "Super Bon Bon" momentarily unrecognizable.

Though some new tunes, including the foreboding "St. Louise Is Listening," sounded like vintage Soul Coughing, others reflected the group's recent fascination with the drum-and-bass movement. The rapid-fire beats and cinematic sweep of this percussive dance-music style fit the band well, not only updating such well-trod emotional territory as "Miss the Girl," a noir-ish love story, but also helping to ground surreal numbers such as "Blame" with fluid, danceable hooks.

Although it was satisfying to hear the band's studio tinkering rendered so dynamically in person, Soul Coughing didn't need bells and whistles to captivate its listeners. The quieter sentiments of "Maybe I'll Come Down" provided one of the evening's most affecting moments, as Doughty proved convincingly wistful and melancholy. And the simple, repetitive refrain of the new single, "Circles," served as a pleasantly reductive pop anthem.

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