That all my life I have listened to the calls
of mourning doves, have heard them hidden far back
under the eaves, or perched among sycamore branches—
their five still notes sometimes lost in the wind—
and not known how to answer: this I confess.
In the perfect fantasy, my first Doves show would be atop a New York City apartment building. The band, embraced by the shadows of nearby skyscrapers, would play under glowing electrical wires and a canopy of stars. It would be snowing but nobody would be cold. I would be with a girl who bought me the tickets—she didn’t tell me about them until that morning because she wanted to surprise me. I would marry this girl and the band would be at our wedding. They would be our guests, our most special guests, for they would be the reason we found one another.
22 Mar 2005: The Bowery Ballroom New York
Seeing a band for the first time is a crucial step in any musical relationship. It’s similar to a blind date: you like what you’ve heard, but you can’t be certain until you see it with your own eyes. In reality, I didn’t get my rooftop serenade and I ended up going home alone. But then, a fantasy is just that, and even without the snow, Doves manage an extraordinary set.
I arrive at Bowery after the opening band’s set expecting to find the place deserted. Doves are one of those bands that I just assume no one else in the world listens to (or at least no one this side of the Atlantic). But here they are, a wide assortment of people all gathering under the Doves’ banner. Hairlines have receded, shirts are tucked in, and somebody’s grandparents loom anxiously on the balcony. My present company bewilders me but I put aside my skepticism. These strangers have now become my friends; tonight we break communal bread with a band we all love. Expectations are as high as the average age. When the band hits the stage, the lights die down and the investment banker next to me screams, “I love you Jimi.”
Live, the band members are equal parts architects and songsmiths. The band builds layers upon layers only to wistfully deconstruct the foundation as in a perfectly played game of Jenga. Doves compose their music with atmospherics in mind. Their words and music paint horizons for their listeners. A Doves song is the sight of a perfect day outside your bedroom window. Weather not too hot or too cold; so comfortable you forget how perfect it really is.
The band opens with “Pounding”, a track off of their second album, The Last Broadcast. I find it a strange selection, but the song comes off fabulously. Stomping, 4:4 drumming from Andy Williams immediately engages the audience. Williams’s performance was a pleasure throughout the evening. Whether carrying the band’s rhythm section or grabbing the mic during a blissful rendition of “Here It Comes”, he is the most animated this evening. He handles his set with fine precision while bearing the elated expression of a kid playing in the junior high talent show.
Ripping through my new favorite, “Almost Forgot Myself”, lead singer/bassist Jimi Goodwin basks in the purple stage lights, as kaleidoscopic shapes swirl around him. Dribbled in a bossa nova chord progression, the keyboards are tweaked with reverb—they sound like children laughing—as the melody echoes off the walls and throughout the room
The biggest treat of the evening comes with “The Cedar Room”. Though a song that expresses some of Doves’ most lonely sentiments (“I tried to sleep alone/ and I couldn’t do it/ You could be sleeping next to me/ And I wouldn’t know it.”), the opening bars of this song cause the couples in the audience to reach out for their other half’s hand. Even New York’s hippest grandparents embrace as grandma mouths the words and her date wraps his arms around her waist. In a moment perfect for music journalism, I see a man lean in to a woman he has barely spoken to the entire show. He takes the liberty to slide her chestnut hair away and whispers a secret into her ear. She smiles sheepishly in response and gently touches his wrist. The secret is theirs and tonight, so is this song.
After playing two encore songs, a fan up front catches the band in a quiet moment and yells “Fear!” at the top of his lungs. “You got it mate,” Goodwin smiles and rips into the band’s most recognized “hit” to date, “There Goes The Fear”. Towards the end of the song, a crewmember places a single drum snare next to Jimi’s microphone. He grabs a drumstick and pounds out the last five beats with Andy and the lights go out.
I shuffle outside with the rest of the audience, pensive, absorbing what just occurred. Suddenly a smile flashes across my face. Most people would recognize that smile from a mile away. I think I’m in love.