Soul Coughing at Phoenix Hill on August 14

By Michael Campbell

For four skinny white boys, Soul Coughing can really lay it down. Touring in support of their current Slash/Warner Brothers release, Irresistible Bliss, acoustic bassist Saul Steinberg generated wads of warm toned funk, while drummer Yuval Gabay smartly nailed rhythms ranging from thick gangsta through New Orleans to minimalist rock. When added to the sampled Wurlitzer-from-Hell keyboard of Mark De Gli Antoni, poet/guitarist/vocalist M. Doughty was blessed with one hell of a sonic playground.

Together since 1993, these veterans of that Greenwich Village house of hype known as the Knitting Factory recorded Bliss late last year as their followup to their 1994 debut, Ruby Vroom.

Enthralling the audience with "Lazybones," a sparse saunter through jive prose, they then captured it by directing them into the dance "moat" area between stage and tables. The feedback loop was now set, and the rhythm began to tighten and burn through the newly appointed denizens of the dance floor.

Frontman Doughty focused the interlocking of vocal phrase with rhythm section so well, it mattered not that he was chanting/rapping numbers instead of words (like "four five therefore nine"), evoking both the timbre and style of Dave Matthews. When he used words, they were both enigmatic and economical. His slight frame, coiling and jerking to the beat, gave a visual shape to the entire performance.

The variance of styles between songs like the aerobic "Super Bon Bon" and transyncopated "Soundtrack to Mary," along with a hypnotic deployment of efficient lyrics bodes well for this band that can move both mind and booty.

The intriguing, yet frustrating Long Fin Killie, from Scotland, opened the show. I found them intriguing because they used crisp drumming and bass to underpin some masterful layers of sound and space, generated alternately by electric guitar, fiddle, lute, saxophone, mandolin, vocals, and hefty helpings of digital delay. It was frustrating because once this setting was created, nobody would (or could) step up, step out, and DO something with it.

All in all, it was a rewarding evening for happy feet.