You’re all geared up to see a rock band, so you wouldn’t expect to see someone tuning a cello in preparation for the special guest. “It’s Mike Doughty from Memphis Tennessee”.
Surprise number two comes in the form of techno noises which are controlled by a pocket piano. The undulating melody in the opening song Lazy Bones really grabs your attention. Doughty’s choice of music is so niche; it has a Deep South element to it, combined with a little jazz.
Using his signature throaty voice, he sings Grey Ghost effortlessly with the assistance of backing singer Gabrielle Aimée Sterbenz – who is also a member of Wheatus – echoing the lyrics. Doughty looks extremely comfortable on stage and his good hearted nature is arguably one of the reasons why he has gained the affections of the Cambridge crowd so quickly. Adding to this, he never fails to engage his band members merely stretching his hand out to them. This gesture is simple in itself but it shows he’s in tune with his band.
It is a struggle to compare this almost futuristic setup to other trends out there. Anyone can be experimental with their music, but it isn’t always easy to get right. With Doughty he is an anomaly to be sure, but the difference is he’s good at it.
It has been well over a decade since they last performed in Cambridge, but Wheatus have returned with a strength like nothing else. “Hi Cambridge” lead singer Brendan B. Brown greets the audience with mock shyness.
This night seems to be full of surprises as Brown, with his trademark glasses and dishevelled appearance asks the crowd for requests. It’s a brave move, but whether it be down to the years of experience or just raw talent, Wheatus has improvisation down to a tee as they easily adjusted to whatever song is thrown at them.
The next song Fourteen is from their sixth studio album and Brown starts off with his trademark high voice singing “Josephine don’t be mean, I wasn’t trying to-”, pushing his voice way beyond the limits of a man. He jokes about his ‘girly’ voice on a number of occasions.
The team have so much on-stage comradery. Bass player Matthew Milligan collaborates with drummer Leo Freire whilst Brown sings, before he moves on to Branden Ticer on keyboard to try and put him off. You get the feeling that you’re not watching a rock band, but rather a comedy show.
Their latest single Tipsy was given a proud introduction by Brown informing the audience that the song is about drinking with friends and discussing the concepts of ‘changing the world’. It wasn’t an overly exciting song, but lyrically, it was very clever and original.
You’d think after a long career of singing Teenage Dirtbag, the novelty would start to wear off. But here they are seventeen years later and it still stands the test of time; the crowd go crazy for it.
Brown’s laid back, what-will-be-will-be attitude is strangely appealing and he has the crowd in stitches whenever he banters with them. Assessing his character over the course of the night, he’s a natural risk-taker and it definitely pays off.
Words from Catherine Verrechia
Images from Matt Thorpe