The timely release of Doves’ third album, Some Cities, was coincidently my introduction to their existence. However, my late arrival to their devout following doesn’t exclude this band from being anything less than epic. Having been dubbed by many critics as sounding similar to the likes of Coldplay and Radiohead, the unique talents of this charming trio can’t be deconstructed by convenient comparisons. The band's latest release is an astonishing accomplishment in contemporary song writing, exemplifying unpretentious depth with a series of melancholy chord progressions and refreshingly candid lyrics. Although Some Cities was masterfully recorded with the aid of veteran producer Ben Hillier, the aptitude of Doves members Jimi Goodwin, Jez Williams, and Andy Williams is best realized in the wake of a live performance.
As one of the last ticket holders to make it through the swinging doors of Chicago’s Vic Theater, I was instantly greeted by “standing room only” conditions for the Doves sold out show in the windy city. I should have anticipated the enormous turn out before deciding to casually arrive 15 minutes after the appointed time, but I was guilty of having underestimated the band's immense popularity within the States. Outside the venue, ticket scalpers buzzed around crowded city streets adjacent to the Theater, nimbly escaping encounters with event security and Chicago city police. Meanwhile, desperate fans pleaded with apathetic doormen to gain unpaid admittance to a show already teeming with enthusiasts. After a moment of awkward milling, I surrendered any hope of locating a seat with a view and promptly set up camp along the sidewall of the venue's west wing. Having never seen the band live nor read any live reviews, I was bewildered by my own expectations and hoped that what was about to culminate on stage would elevate the mounting hysteria surrounding the highly-anticipated event.
The most recent installment from Doves certainly brings them quite a ways from their previous efforts on Lost Souls and Last Broadcast, however the level of maturity exhibited with Some Cities provides some reassurance that these versatile musicians are pacing themselves for a lasting career. The band's most recent work is laced with a slightly more hopeful undertone while managing to not fully compromise the saddening elements of Doves music. In a live performance something is communicated by the group’s subtleties that suggests the performers are individuals who have recently learned some painful life lessons. But an open acceptance of these life lessons as a fact of life makes the album less pessimistic than other music in the same genre.
When the house lights finally went dim, and the hum of side conversations died, three shadowy figures emerged on stage, transformed to silhouettes by the shear brilliance of the stage lighting. A giant sheet of cloth extended behind the musicians nearly 20 feet tall becoming an enormous screen where digital images were projected in unison with the music. The rich sound of the band swept over the crowd, convincing people to get out of their seats and stand on the already worn cushion of their traditional theater style fold-up chairs. The simultaneous effect of both the music and the visuals had a hypnotic power that seduced audience members, forcing all attention on stage while putting everyone in the room in the same state of mind.
Jimi Goodwin’s coarse vocals and straightforward lyrics have a genuine quality that makes it feel like he is really speaking directly to the listener. Goodwin manages to talk about relationship issues in a way that doesn’t alienate the listener by delving into some deep interpersonal problems that stray from the universal experiences we all endure as part of life. Perhaps that is why the Doves' music is so well received, because it’s accessible and can offer something to anyone who is willing to give it a chance. The Williams brothers vocals cooed in my ear like a compilation of the best memories in my life all taking place at once. The smoke, the lights, the screen, and even the subtle orchestral accents of the band provided a ghostly setting for the show, leaving me with the intense emotional experience of having witnessed some forty-five minute long deja vu episode.