27 Feb 2001: Bowery Ballroom New York City
Tonight, it’s obvious that Doves don’t yet think of themselves as proper English rockstars. Keyboardist Martin Rebelski, face scrunched and arms lazily drifting, looks more like he’s looking for a destination on a roadmap than playing before a mesmerized crowd in a city notorious for its intolerable audiences. Jez Williams on guitar hangs out, so far to the side that he’s nearly in the wings, and has affected a youthful earnestness that’s generally reseved for high school talent shows. Andy Williams, the drummer, stays obediently back, both physically and musically. Oh, and then there’s lead singer and bassist, Jimi Goodwin: injecting new meaning into casual dress and posturing an ennui that’s too candid to be affected, a cigarette hanging loosely out of his mouth, even on a number requiring vocal gymnastics.
So what gives? This behavior, from a band that has become the stuff of sold-out shows and magazine cover slugs? So little pomp and circumstance from British indie’s newest critical darling and the secret music worshippers can’t help but leak? Saviors to the form of songwriting, they say; trailblazers between indie, Britrock, and electronica, they say; on par and just as signature to this era as Coldplay or Travis; a proven case that the latest musical tactic most often attributed to bands like Radiohead and Sigur Ros has more adherents, and can be not only commercially viable but also radio-friendly. If that’s not a pre-req for stardom—and acting like it—I don’t know what is.
But there’s another kernel that’s integral to Doves—evident on their modest website, their blushing melodic lines and interlocking stylistic leaps, and now here, this show. It screams to the fact that they’re holding back, but also to that they’re holding on to something. On purpose. In these days of bigger-is-better, Doves have steeped themselves fully into the forgotten art of subtlety, the awesome power of the musical tease. Critics and fans sense it, have missed it, and damn it, we love it.
That’s the message New York gave Doves when their show here sold out—a surprise to many and, most emphatically and ironically, their fan base. People I knew who wanted to go and couldn’t complained vociferously, most wondering just where in the hell the hundreds of other Doves fans had been hiding. For many, they’re one of those few bands that really feels personal—they’re not yet in major radio rotation, and knowing about them feels, well, cool. But like I said, that’s the thing that so many people have been missing—a band that’s just about the music and not about the hype. And those who are “in the know” are talking. So we can’t exactly rationalize feeling cheated that others have hopped on board.
Seeing them in concert may not have been a jump-around-and-get-down fest, but they’re not that kind of band. Like Broadcast or Pram, their playing style is staid and reserved, and their audiences tend to look more like they’re in church than at a rock show. In some ways, they are. Spirtual numbers like “Rise” and “Break Me Gently”, have that feeling of litany, and sound swelling in the area feels a lot like being saved, or overtaken by the Holy Ghost.
This all isn’t to say that Doves don’t still have some growing to do in terms of honing in on their “showmanship”. The thing about them is, as discreet as they may want to be, they are also a band that plays songs that follow a myriad of influences and moods. They string them together so easily in part because the execution is so nebulous—and on an album you can build a series of song in an order, and segue from one point to another across three songs and carry a listener right along. In a show, with a playlist, it’s not as easy. It requires firm, dedicated, and emphatic stylistic changes—punch, if you will. On songs like “Catch the Sun” and “Here It Comes”, it’s about feeding off energy and giving it back—in the intrumentals, it’s about hammering home the love, the proselytic nature, the worship. It’s acrobatics, and they’ve gotta be more tuned in to doing some flips.
So come on, guys—you’re there, now act like it. No one wants you to be a pop media whore or Jarvis Cocker (Pulp), but we do want you to show us—your friends, that is—that you mean it. We’ll get the translation either way. But we’ll evolve—and I’d say, so will you, if you practice the language.