If you’ve been to a lot of concerts in your life, you’ve probably been to a lot of incongruous concert venues—rehabilitated meat lockers, high school gymnasiums, dorm cafeterias, the guy down the street’s rec room. Clutch Cargo’s is a converted church, a repurposing which more often than not is a curse rather than a blessing for attending shows there. The sightlines on the ground floor are horrible, there aren’t any seats, the hollow acoustics apparently require most bands to be miked at an uncomfortably loud level, where the bass makes your eardrums ooze if you stand anywhere close to the stage.
But if any band belongs in a church, in a cathedral even, it’s the Doves. Manchester, England’s Doves are the U.K.‘s critical darlings of the last year, and in the U.S. they’ve got a devoted following in more than just the usual Anglophile circles. Their music recalls the best of their musically prolific city’s leading lights—the crystalline guitars of The Stone Roses, the yearning of The Smiths, the danceability of New Order, the complexity of The Verve, the trippiness of The Happy Mondays, the confidence of Oasis.
At Clutch Cargo’s, Doves played a set that fairly evenly mixed tracks from their two albums, this year’s The Last Broadcast and 2000’s Lost Souls. They opened with “Pounding” and just soared on from there. While nearly everything seemed dead on this night, songs like “Satellites” and “There Goes the Fear” were absolutely transcendent in their gorgeousness, the shimmering chords reverberating off the former church’s stone walls, the beautiful blue and purple light shows dancing off the stained glass in the balcony windows. It was one of those rare shows where I was actually able to forget about all the aggravations inside and out and just concentrate on the sheer loveliness, an experience about as close to religion as I’m likely to get these days.
While they were, for the most part, fairly business-like in working through their set list, Doves occasionally lightened the prayerful mood. The last time I saw them, it was in the unenviable position of opening up for U.K. icons Travis at the London Arena, a show where frontman Jimi Goodwin felt the need to repeatedly berate those in the audience for their lack of attentiveness. This time it was totally different. I’ve rarely witnessed an audience more quietly in sync with the act they were seeing, beaming and swaying in blissed-out contentment throughout the night. In appreciation, Doves rewarded them with a thumbs-up and a few good-humored barbs rather than a tantrum. Goodwin even gently mocked Americans’ cluelessness about he and his mates’ “im-pen-e-trable” accents by offering to speak slowly so we could catch every word. It was a good jab gotten in for a contingent who more often have to suffer the indignity of watching Mancunian brethren like Liam and Noel Gallagher be subtitled in their appearances on MTV.
Having finally seen 24 Hour Party People the night before and Oasis a few weeks before, I guess Manchester is a running preoccupation of my life lately. To cap the night off, the Doves reached into the wayback machine to play a song called “Spaceface” from their previous incarnation as Sub Sub, and the place was suddenly transformed into pure Madchester—a whirling endless groove accompanied by a psychedelic light show. A couple of girls in front of me were even demonstrating their Bez-like dance moves. Not the most spiritual ending one could have chosen, unless you worship at the altar of the almighty Baggy, but an entertaining show of civic pride, nonetheless. Oh Manchester, so much for us to be thankful for.