Sarah Dougher at the Knitting Factory, January 17, 2001
When The New York Times sends critic Ann Powers to the bowels of the Knitting Factory to cover a show, you know something big is going down. But the lame-o crowd in attendance was a little too cool for their own good. After every song, the polite clippy-claps of hands flew through the air like dizzy birds before collapsing to light a cigarette or lift a tumbler of scotch. A little more enthusiasm, please, this is embarrassing. And could the people in the back by the bar please shut the hell up?
In support of her sophomore solo release, The Walls Ablaze, Sarah Dougher (pronounced Doog-er) had a one-month residency in the Knitting Factory's intimate Old Office every Wednesday night in January. On this night, however, New York City did little to celebrate one of the founding mothers of Riot Grrrl.
If Riot Grrrl seems a superficial quick hit for young feminists, Dougher is an example that some people really do live according to the girl-style-revolution ethic. Okay, and she's a total smartie. A Ph.D. in Comparative Literature, she's taught Greek and Roman classics and introduced Bella Abzug to the consciousness of anyone who listened to her first solo record, Day One. She's the musical mastermind in queer rock bands such as the Lookers (disbanded), the Crabs, and Cadallaca (with Corin Tucker of Sleater-Kinney and drummer sts yes, that's her name "sts" of the Haggard). Dougher works for the Oregon Council for the Humanities, writes reviews for the Portland, Oregon paper The Willamette Week and co-authored a book with Nikki McLure, titled Sent Out on the Tracks They Built. The woman truly is the relentless rock star we can look up (and bow down) to.
Strong, radiant and stringent, Dougher's voice could lick the grime off a subway seat. There's sexy muscle behind every note, and her shift in pitch is immaculate without sounding prescribed. It's hard to find a modern rock singer that can play with their vocal range so freely. And no, the chick from 4 Non-Blondes doesn't qualify.
Wednesday night, with two guitars at work, one on Dougher and one on her pal Jon Rueter, you can understand how, with such a masterful mouth, brick-wall acoustics could piss someone off so thoroughly. The guitars overpowered the vocals in weird places during the songs. Good thing the music, overall, is a very suave flavor of rock, or the post-show-ear-ringing would not have been worth the frustration. Sometimes skittish, sometimes melancholy, the songs are written and performed with a sense of earnestness. Dougher, no doubt, thinks a lot. Her stage presence, however, is mildly spastic, which is comforting to us lowly plebeians.
"We're writing a book about road games," said a serious Dougher. Rueter looked up and smirked. One of their favorite road games is "Eddie or Creed." As you flip through the radio stations, you try to figure out which band is playing Pearl Jam or Creed. "It sounds like Eddie, but it might be Creed!" Another favorite game is "Bag in a Tree." "You'd be surprised how many bags you find in trees," she continued. Keep your eyes on the Voice literary supplement, as this book-in-progress has massive potential.
Let's switch to things that don't have massive potential. If you protested the inauguration of that retarded beanbag of a president on Saturday the 20th, know that Sarah Dougher felt your pain. Walking around Manhattan, Dougher noticed posters with information on how to get down to D.C. for the protest. "And I was so happy," she gushed, with hand over her heart.
We don't need another hero. We've got Sarah Dougher.
Glen Phillips and John Mayer at Shine, February 1, 2001
I went from the basement to the penthouse for this month's column. Shine isn't exactly the "underbelly of Manhattan." Rather, it's as swank as this writer can get without turning to stone. Velvet drapes, a black lacquered bar, cozy couches and important-looking booths don this tony club.
I came to see solo acts Glen Phillips (lead singer of the disbanded Toad the Wet Sprocket) and John Mayer, both singer/songwriters. Not thinking that this show would draw a crowd, you can imagine the look on my face as I approached the block-long line in front of the velvet ropes. Looks like Phillips and Mayer sold out Shine. How in the hell...?
Squished up against the bar, I got to do some crowd-watching. This is usually a fun pass-time, but not when everyone looks alike. I could just as easily have wandered into a Times Square mega-bar. College-y looking hipsters in black leather jackets, baseball caps, shimmery make-up and navy blue pea-coats were sharing space with the executive members (i.e. former college-y hipsters who have graduated to suit-jobs). The music was just as enthralling.
John Mayer is your typical Dave Matthews understudy. Mayer could easily land a roll on "Dawson's Creek," with his boyish good looks and sensitive streak. But the crowd was going nuts for this guy's music. People were singing along and cheering him on like he was the Messiah. Fascinating. As for Glen Phillips, well, the guy was more charismatic when he was in Toad the Wet Sprocket. Though his voice has retained that sweet, I don't know, wet-sprocketness. And, again, the crowd's response was positive. So it looks like I was the night's oddball, if you can imagine that.
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