The story of the very first “Scream Along With Billy” — what has since become a musical institution in the gay hamlet of Provincetown — involves crack addiction, a cross-country move, a liberal dose of apathy (with a dash of cynicism), Courtney Love cover songs and unintentional bed-wetting. And it’s a story that Billy Hough, New York City resident by way of California, will tell you proudly. After all, it’s his story to tell, and he owns it.
Those who have spent time on the very tip of Cape Cod, in what is possibly the queerest place on Earth, know the privilege of witnessing Billy Hough at a piano. On just about any given night in Provincetown he can be found treating locals and vacationers alike to a side of wry, rambling humor with their favorite songs. The guy can seriously play anything. Anything.
“Scream Along With Billy,” hosted by Hough and his musical partner-in-crime Sue Goldberg at P-Town’s Grotta Bar for the past 12 years, is each time the performance of a different album in its entirety. Sometimes the album choice is ironic, oftentimes not, and the duo has covered more than 200 albums to date.
This week, at On the Rox on the Sunset Strip, Hough and Goldberg will bring “Scream Along” to an L.A. audience. The show, dubbed “The Big One,” has chosen an album seemingly perfect for a Southern California audience: Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours. That 1977 album is the group’s most lauded and best-selling, the tightly woven story of five band members — three of them songwriters — dealing with failed relationships and burgeoning drug addictions.
“We don’t usually do repeats, but there are a couple of hugely iconic records that people want to hear,” Billy Hough says during a recent phone call.
For the past four months, Hough and Goldberg have been playing a residency at Alan Cumming’s Club Cumming in New York City. One of their first shows was a tribute to Rumours featuring Justin Vivian Bond, Lili Taylor and Michael Cunningham.
“I have a lot of really interesting friends,” Hough says, “so we did this huge, star-studded Rumours tribute and people loved it. That was about the time that I announced we were coming to L.A., and people were like, ‘Oh my god, please do Rumours.’ So I was like, ‘Alright, we’ll do Rumours, but we’ll do more.”
This Thursday night, “The Big One” will feature Rumours in its entirety, as well as some of Hough’s own personal breakup songs — from the 2013 album Venice, released by him, Goldberg and Gordon Gano of the Violent Femmes — with some Joni Mitchell and Courtney Love covers. “We’re gonna do mostly heartbreak songs,” he says.
Hough knows a thing or two about heartbreak — his Venice album, after all, is based on a West Coast breakup — but also about the healing power of music. Our personal relationship drama aside, we’re of course in trying times politically, as well, and Hough thinks music can act as a cure for that, too.
“I don’t like being inherently political,” Billy Hough says. “Everybody gets enough of that in their daily lives. But I think there’s something to be said for the fact that we will live through this. What’s happening politically — a lot of this stuff hasn’t happened before, and we don’t really have confidence that we’ll survive this, as a people or as a country. But if you can relate it to things like heartbreak and drug addiction and losing people that are very important to you — those kinds of experiences where you think you’re not gonna make it, but then you do — that’s the message.”
This Thursday night, L.A. is in for a real treat. “It’s a message of hope, rather than cynicism, that we’re bringing to our friends in Los Angeles,” Hough says.