Maybe the most remarkable thing about Doug Seegers, the 62-year-old recently homeless singer-songwriter from West Islip, is that he doesn't really want to be a star.
What he wants is to be understood.
He yearns for that in a way that most artists yearn for fame and fortune. And it showed in his sets at SubCulture in Manhattan Tuesday night, a celebration for the release of his debut album "Going Down to the River" (Rounder).
Though most of his performances until recently have been on the streets of Nashville, where he busked for cash, Seegers is clearly a seasoned pro. He hopped so easily from classic Hank Williams country to acoustic Cajun standards, from gospel to something he dubbed "metalgrass," a mix of bluegrass picking and heavy metal thudding, that he had to call out changes to his crafty band so they could keep up.
Whatever style he picked, he used to explain a little more about his life and his choices -- both bad and good.
When he sings, "I’ve been running with the devil and I know that he’s not my friend," in the "Going Down to the River" title track – the song that became a No. 1 single on iTunes in Sweden and put his career back on track – it's clear he speaks from experience. When he celebrates with the uplifting "Will You Take the Hand of Jesus," that's from experience as well.
Considering his life, it's no surprise that his hard-luck stories ring truest, like his drinking-away-the-heartache anthem "Pour Me" and the post-fight lament "Baby Lost Her Way Home Again." But Seegers delivers them in a way that's free from malice to others or self-pity. He owns up to his mistakes and his shortcomings.
Even in "Angie's Song," which he wrote to a girlfriend who had been sent to jail, he is still trying to inspire as he sings, "Let me be the one who cries like a baby when you finally see the light."
The only time Seegers was truly serious was for his finale, Mark Wills’ plea for empathy "Don't Laugh at Me."
"When was the last time you counted your blessings?" he asked the crowd before the song and its powerful chorus, “Don’t laugh at me/Don’t call me names/Don’t get your pleasure from my pain.”
As he left the stage, he reminded them, "Remember what I said."
SETLIST: Gotta Catch That Train / Lonely Drifter’s Cry / Hey Good Lookin’ / Pocket Full of Gold / Angie’s Song / Walking on the Edge of the World / Baby Lost Her Way Home Again / Hard Working Man / Sixteen Tons / Going Down to the River / Will You Take the Hand of Jesus / (Intermission) / Pour Me / Mr. Weevil / Good Morning Miss Brown / Jambalaya (On the Bayou) / She’s in a Rock and Roll Band / Kaw-Liga / Don’t Laugh at Me