It’s a tough job but someone’s got to do it. Tonight [a]Doves[/a] are supporting The Inescapable Band, Travis. For this audience, ‘Footballers Wives’ is a hard-hitting drama and Groove Armada are a deeply underrated live act. So as [a]Doves[/a] take to the stage, the audience stare at them with the blank incomprehension of Prince Philip faced with an aboriginal tribal dance. Still, Jimi Goodwin has won over an Oasis crowd at Wembley – he knows just what’s required. “What a beautiful day, eh?” he blusters, “You get all the weather down south…”
These dates with Travis were conceived as a way of gently premiering[a]Doves[/a]’ second album, the long-awaited ‘The Last Broadcast’, to a non-partisan crowd. But modesty be damned: it’s immediately clear that the return of Manchester’s finest is a real event.
Where ‘Lost Souls’ arced and soared with the bittersweet blues of a band who’d suffered years of bad breaks and dismal deals, the opening newie ‘New York’ achieves an optimism you never thought [a]Doves[/a] were capable of. The gloom, it appears, has lifted. [I]”Put your finger on the map/Who cares where it lands”[/I] croons Jimi, dreaming of a Big Apple away-day, [I]”Because we’re all better off in New York”[/I]. As an opener, it’s a clear sign that ‘The Last Broadcast’ promises to be less of a return flight to[a]Doves[/a]’ old roost, and more a voyage to distant shores. Another new song, ‘Satellites’, achieves that curious effect of sounding like you’ve heard it on the radio a hundred times already. A collective thaw sweeps through the Brighton Centre. Whoever these guys are, they’re good.
A relentless, drum-heavy thunder merges into a fuzz-toned Northern Souler called, appropriately, ‘Pounding’, and then guitarist Jez Williams steps up to the microphone for another mind-blowing new song called ‘Words’. A druggy drum loop booms from the speakers, building and building until it reaches an epic chorus halfway between Guns ‘N Roses‘
‘Paradise City’ and The Beatles ‘It’s All Too Much’. The visuals, flickering between Rorschach-test acid blots, wild horses and leftovers from the party scene in ‘Midnight Cowboy’ come to a frenzied climax.
Sublime renditions of ‘Here It Comes’ and ‘The Cedar Room’ follow to the accompaniment of footage of youthful soul boys wigging out at the Wigan Casino. The mood of melancholy and regret that made [a]Doves[/a] so special in the first place hits you in a wave which makes you sad they’ve been away so long. Then the lights dim, the band stroll nonchalantly off-stage and the first phase of [a]Doves[/a] return to the fray is successfully completed.
Have the oblivious crowd been used as lab-rats by[a]Doves[/a], as they continue their quest to crack the code which leads to Travis-like mega-hugeness? Wistful when they need to be, armed to the teeth when they don’t – the hordes of Samaritans-rockers who’ve appeared in their absence don’t stand a chance. On this sort of form, that ‘…Broadcast’ can’t come soon enough. And if Fran Healy, lurking in the wings, isn’t worried, then he certainly should be.