Unlike many of its flavor-of-the-week compatriots from the depths of the UK’s bottomless buzz bin, there is a certain unkempt charm to Manchester’s Doves that only seems to grow with time. On its first trip back to Los Angeles since 2005, the band, comprised of brothers Jez and Andy Williams and childhood friend Jimi Goodwin, performed at The Wiltern Theater Saturday night (May 16) and demonstrated its desire to continue to let the music do most of the talking. Drawing fairly evenly from all four of its studio recordings, its 18-song, 90-minute set was heavy on trademark dense soundscapes (“Greatest Denier,” “The Outsiders”) and lush atmospheric melodies (“Last Broadcast,” “Ambition”).
Because Doves is unable to reproduce live the multitude of overdubs that characteristically color its records, the success of the band's concert hinges on how effectively it can strip down each song to the essential ingredients. Some tracks did not quite benefit from the sparser arrangements (“Caught By The River”), but most of the set was well-suited to this approach. The sonic heft of opener “Jetstream” had infinitely more resonance than its “Kingdom of Rust” counterpart, while some timing issues prevented “Snowden” (from 2005’s “Some Cities”) from making a fully satisfying liftoff. The trajectory was smoothed out, however, during “Pounding” and “Words,” both of which appeared on Doves’ 2002 album “The Last Broadcast” and on this night, turned the Wiltern’s lower level into a roaring, fist-pumping sing-a-long.
It is almost refreshing that Doves seems more at ease with being in the studio in the privacy of the English countryside than with bopping about onstage in tight clothes and baring its soul on its sleeve. Indeed, through no fault of his own, it is as if Goodwin fronts the band out of necessity rather than by choice. His husky baritone, hard-bitten frame, and impressive bass playing virtuosity gave “Almost Forgot Myself” and current single “Kingdom of Rust” an authentic and palpable emotional intensity.
Doves’ insular focus on its craft has meant increasingly longer amounts of time between records as its career has developed. The group’s latest set, “Kingdom of Rust,” was four years in the making and saw the band amass, experiment with, and ultimately whittle through a list of between 50 and 60 song ideas. The resulting eleven-track LP is perhaps unsurprisingly a bit of a Frankenstein-esque creation, spanning shades of futuristic electronica, orchestral soul, and country folk, sometimes within the same track.
Purple lights bathed the crowd in the mellow gauze of the new album’s “10:03” while distressed images of x-rays and insects flashed across the video screens during “Rise”— one of three standouts played from the group’s 2000 debut “Lost Souls,” along with first and second encores “Firesuite” and “Here It Comes,” respectively.
Andy Williams’ fervent drumming is often times the focal point of the band’s onstage chemistry, evidenced most clearly during the mammoth thump of a crowd favorite, “Black And White Town.” Watching brother Jez squeeze every drop out of his effects-drenched guitar rig during the set’s closing number, “There Goes The Fear,” was almost as compelling.
The fact that Doves has had significant success in the UK (including two No. 1 records) without becoming part of the country’s diluted tabloid culture only lends its moody, melodic catalogue even more credibility. It also helps keep the band cloaked in a bit of the same Mancunian, blue-collar musical intrigue that helped shape the identities of Joy Division, The Smiths, and The Stone Roses as iconoclastic icons of British rock before them.
Over the course of its eleven-year career, Doves have managed to quietly release four albums’ worth of some of the most artistically consistent, well-crafted and thoughtful guitar rock of the past decade. The fact that the band can translate its sound and scope so effectively to a live audience will only help them write their own chapter into the hallowed annals of Manchester’s musical legacy.
Here is Doves’ setlist:
“Almost Forgot Myself”
“Kingdom of Rust”
“Black and White Town”
“Caught by the River”
“Here It Comes”
“There Goes the Fear”
- Track Review