BY PAUL ROGERS
View more photos in the “Doves @ The Wiltern” slideshow.
Doves shouldn't exist. “Album” bands like this, who've sustained a theater-level following for a decade without U.S. radio hits (and on May 16 comfortably filled the 2200-capacity Wiltern), supposedly died out with cassette tapes.
Like their new album, Kingdom of Rust, Doves' set opened with the understated urgency and alienated aura of “Jetstream” and continued to lean heavily on this disc (“Winter Hill,” “10:0,” “The Greatest Denier,” “The Outsiders” and the title track) and 2005's Some Cities (“Snowden,” “Almost Forgot Myself,” “Ambition,” “Black And White Town”). Their increasingly embroidered sound (their four-piece touring incarnation bolstered by a battery of backing tracks) made perfect sense beneath the Wiltern's ornate walls – utterances at once bustling and lonesome, like the urban lives their lyrics sometimes explore.
Doves, on stage and record, are all about consistency: set (and career) standouts are subtle and troughs shallow. They marry baggy Madchester roots to U2's sense of scale and cop strummy Brit-pop attitude while bristling with “Bristol sound” (Portishead/Tricky) electro/organic textures. Their all-eyes-off-us, bloke-down-the-pub lack of pretense last night only left their music more vivid. There was appreciative between-song bonhomie and de rigueur big screen projections, but essentially this was four musicians playing tunes.
“Winter Hill”s quaint, electro-folksy intro ushered in a night's highlight which confirmed that Kingdom is at least the equal of its predecessors. Jimi Goodwin's earthy, regretful timbre delivered the song's – indeed, the set's – weathered nostalgia with care and caress. “Kingdom of Rust's” shuffling, strings-swollen Western soundtrack verses belied sepia-stained lyrics utterly English in content and sentiment, while”10:03″ – its frantic, Radiohead-ready mid-section aside – reminded us why Doves have previously opened for Coldplay. “The Greatest Denier” embodied everything enticing about Kingdom of Rust: simple, purposeful rhythms; controlled cascades of arpeggiated guitar and sprinkled twinkles of electronics; and Goodwin's arm-around-you storytelling.
Doves spread their wings a little for a four-song encore culled from their first two albums (2000's Lost Souls and '02's The Last Broadcast) – Goodwin taking drums (and still vocals) while sticksman Andy Williams handled harmonica and harmonies on “Here It Comes”; and an oddly Caribbean crescendo to “There Goes The Fear” – but overall this isn't a band that goes above-and-beyond their recordings on stage, nor offers the blink-and-you'll-miss-it tension of more visceral rock acts unshackled by pre-recorded tracks. Instead, a Doves show is an homage to their gorgeously evocative songwriting and unusually 3-D, genre-straddling instrumental and arrangement sensibilities.