Life, death, love, loss and songs about losing one’s marbles: how Doves can navigate such ambitious waters while consistently avoiding the rocks of self-indulgence is one of music’s most enduring wonders. Where others bend over backwards in an attempt to convince us that their pain is genuine, there’s the sense that this bluff Mancunian trio really have lived through it all; that they’ve lost love, found solace in perseverance and have the beards and broken hearts to prove it. Sung by an Ashcroft or a Gallagher, the fathoms-deep longing of ‘There Goes The Fear’ (“you turn around and life’s passed you by”) or current single ‘Caught By The River’ would all but asphyxiate on maudlin mush. Yet, when crooned by Doves‘ Jimi Goodwin – a man who, with his grubby T-shirt and builder’s waddle, looks better equipped to fit a sink than front a rock band – it all melts into a deliciously un-sanitised pool of emotion. Clearly, the Doves haven’t a contrived bone in their bodies. They couldn’t ‘do’ arrogant or ersatz if they tried. Honesty and an effortless lack of self-consciousness are their calling cards; qualities that inevitably see them bypass the smug pitfalls of dad-rock in favour of the unaffected wisdom of, well, elder brother-rock.
Tonight, even the frequent technical hitches (“Whoopth!” lisps Goodwin sweetly, after botching, twice, the intro to “Catch The Sun”) fail to intrude upon the sense of occasion. Indeed, these glitches – such as the moment a flustered technician scurries on stage during ‘Firesuite’ to apologise for the misbehaving equipment – appear less like intrusions and more like inevitable by-products of their redoubtable attempts to strive for ever-grander vistas. Doves are, after all, a band to whom hiccups, headaches and the vagaries of guitars that sound like galaxies imploding are all part of the process.
From ‘Pounding’s relentless neo-baggy grind to the aching, extended breakdown of ‘The Cedar Room’, their music escapes the constraints of their lyrical pre-occupations (pain, hope, regret, redemption) and heads for a realm in which cosmos-sized tunes are imbued with an irresistible everyman accessibility. To demonstrate their ability to make sonic mountains out of molehills, they play the theme to ‘Steptoe and Son’ and turn its rickety ridiculousness into a sniff-inducing lament worthy of ‘The Last Broadcast’. They are, we are relieved to note, not Elbow.
As thousands of tiny stars appear on screens behind them, Doves finish with ‘Space Face’, a relic from their days as early 90’s techno-champs Sub Sub. A swirling, nouveau-baggy instrumental in psychedelic footwear, its astral, bliss-kissed confidence provides both the perfect farewell toast to their past and a cheeky wink at a future that promises anything but the expected.
Life, death, love, loss and songs about losing one’s marbles: whichever way you look at it, Doves are untouchable.