24 Feb 2001: Upstage Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Sometimes it seems that expectations are our downfall as music fans. Whether it is reading mountains of hype about a band before hearing them and realizing they are dreadful (see last year’s greatly over-publicized Terris); the long awaited second album which turns out to be an utter disaster (see the Stone Roses’ Second Coming as the archetype); or the concert you’ve awaited for weeks but something goes awry, there’s far too much left to chance.
The last option happened to be the case for Doves’ first show on American shores. A debut so remarkable, bursting with potential and growing with every listen in the nine months I’ve owned Lost Souls that breathless waiting gave way to a slight grimace on show’s begin that was only wiped away by the occasional surfacing of Doves’ utter majesty.
At 11:15 the Doves’ rather alluring set of films was projected on the screen behind the stage as the foursome (the trio is touring with a keyboardist) swaggered on stage cigarettes alight. But from the opening chords of “Firesuite” it was again all too apparent that in the life of a music fan and critic too much is left to chance, particularly in the live setting. The sound was immediately violently loud, far too powerful for such a small venue and robbing Doves of the grace they possess on record. Andy William’s drums drowned the guitar of his brother, Jez, an unfortunate beginning to what was to become the theme of the set.
The band slammed into the generally more collected “Rise” as Jimi Goodwin’s soaring then vocoded vocal lost the captivating, savior of rock’n'roll quality, it contains on record. Even so, under the earsplitting grind rested the enchanting bridge that first hooked me on the record and that kept me hopeful. The crushing drums put an awkward stamp on the acoustic guitar focused, normally gorgeous, “Sea Song”. Throughout the song, Goodwin motioned to the soundman to give him more vocals, but to no avail.
Only with “Break Me Gently” did the Doves I yearned for finally appear. Soaring and distinguished with equal thanks to Mancunian forebearers Johnny Marr for guitar ambition and Joy Division for ominousness, the song showed why Doves are perhaps England’s most compelling experimental guitar band now that Radiohead have exchanged their axes for computers. “Catch the Sun” was equally excellent; the blinding loudness of the mix finally apt. Whereas the finer points of “The Man Who Told Everything” and “Lost Souls” were smothered. After the latter track, Goodwin was fully aware that things were unraveling. He asked the crowd: “Can you hear anything? Is it a bit of a mess?” Unfortunately, the exuberance of the masses did not allow for an honest response.
Doves proceeding to preview a new track, “Predictably New York” which sounded promising though the guitar was tinny and the mix crashing, as Goodwin sheepishly admitted that he’d never stepped foot in the City. “The Cedar Room” and “Here It Comes” followed and provided the brightest points of the show. Goodwin’s tormented vocal “I tried to sleep alone / But I couldn’t do it” on the former track was even more cutting than on record while the electronic piano on “Here It Comes” captured the fullness and dynamism of the album version. Unfortunately, Doves fought off crowd demand for the dazzling “Melody Calls”—easily among the best singles of last year—and instead closed with “Ain’t No Love (Ain’t No Use)” a UK top ten single in the early ‘90s when Doves were a throwaway dance act, Sub Sub, as an earlier incarnation. Expectations far from fulfilled, but a rough and tumble show is, in retrospect inevitable on this first U.S. tour. Yet, even my disappointment with that evening cannot prevent my continued adoration of the best Mancunian debut since [Oasis’] Definitely Maybe.