There are multiple moments when watching Doves perform that you realise that they must be some of the loveliest humans in the British music. It’s the utmost sincerity they exude, clearly being extremely grateful for the rapturous reception they are receiving. It’s that sardonic, lively and playful, Northern humour which is evident throughout (they ask the fans in the Upper Levels if they are enjoying the show, and if they have vertigo) best seen with lead singer Jimi Goodwin’s tongue-in-cheek impression of Chris Martin's stage demeanour (namely his dancing). But mostly it’s the tunes themselves, so far removed from the time they were made still holding up so strong now.
It is the aforementioned Martin whose band they most often received comparisons to in their early days. Consisting of frontman Jimi Goodwin and twin brothers Jez and Andy Williams, Doves rose to prominence at the same time as Coldplay, and the similarly sounding Travis, at the turn of the century. You can slightly see such comparisons. With each release, you could feel the Radiohead (or you could even argue Jeff Buckley) influence, filling the gap they left when they swapped eschewed guitars for electronics paired with heartfelt, quiet emotionalism.
But Doves were always more clever and more special then being reduced to such wearisome comparisons. Their music was much more layered and textured, more experimental and psychedelic which was unsurprising given the band originally started off as an acid house dance group entitled Sub Sub who released Number 3 hit ‘Ain’t No Love (Ain’t No Use)’ in 1995 and switched to more jangly psychedelic indie in 1998. They avoided grandiose statements and kept their feet firmly on the ground, yet their songs were full of such warm, hopeful emotions which managed to avoid cliche as they were rooted in realism and earnestness. ‘Catch The Sun’ in another band hands would have been by-numbers, but with the Doves it is a bright, gentle blast of optimism, like your brother giving you life advice rather than Bono-like lecturings. They scored two Number One albums, another Number Three charting hit with ‘There Goes The Fear’ (issued and deleted on the same day; again demonstrating the band’s willingness to not play it safe) and created a powerful body of work across the four records they released. And then in 2010 they went abruptly on hiatus, remaining silent except for the odd solo record for much of the decade.
And then, just as suddenly as the left, they returned. They announced a short run of shows for 2019 last year, with the biggest being a headline slot at the Royal Albert Hall for Teenage Cancer Trust (they had previously played it in 2003).
After such a long wait, was there still a strong desire for the band to return? Were they still relevant? The answer to both is an astounding yes. The shows sold out quickly, and the crowd tonight are clearly very ecstatic and excited to see them after all this time. They open with the lovely instrumental ‘Firesuite’, and then proceed to show for the next 75 minutes why they were one of the best bands of the early noughties (and currently as well) with a mixture of album tracks (the gloriously lo-fi ‘Rise’, the tender ‘Winter Hill’), fan favourites and of course the hits.
The barnstorming ‘Black and White Town’, which so successfully capture the feeling of teenage angst and the desire for freedom and escape from the colourless, “satellite towns” we grow up in, whips the crowd into a frenzy, whilst ‘Pounding’ and ‘The Cedar Room’ are warm, melodic pieces of indie which are still as interesting and meaningful as they were when the came out.
As a band, they are perfect and you would never believe that they had not played together for so long, sounding exactly the same as they once did, if not slightly better. Jimi’s and Jez’s voice are as powerful and as full of candour as ever, and the trio’s willingness to play about with the arrangements (’10:03’ going from a quiet, peaceful song to an unstoppable wall of sound) has lush results.
The band’s best and well-known tracks were those that played to Doves strength of creating exuberant, life affirming music which is kind and tender - ‘Caught By The River’ is unabashingly hopeful and moving. Listening to them and seeing them live, you are truly reminded of the power of music through shared, optimistic humanity. Ending with the relatably existential ‘There Goes The Fear’ and a declaration that they will “never forget this night”, Doves have achieved a stunning comeback which hopefully signals the beginning of the second phase of their careers.