Tuesday, May 17th, 2005
Dark Is Rising, Sky Starts Falling
I was simultaneously really excited and not that excited about the Doves/Mercury Rev last night – excited because it was two bands on the same bill that I quite liked and probably would have gone to see individually, not so excited because I’d seen them both live before a few years ago and wasn’t especially blown away by either.
Never mind that.
I last saw Mercury Rev back in 2001 on tour for All Is Dream. They were touring with two keyboardist/organists at the time and the resultant show was quite massive in sound, but also somewhat soft at the same time, if that makes sense. This time they had jettisoned one of the keyboardists and it made all the difference. Taking the stage to a projection collage of album covers, book covers, movie posters and hockey cards (I think I saw a Ron Duguay card), the Rev proceeded to punch through songs from their latest, The Secret Migration, alongside selections from Deserters Songs and All Is Dream (and a Bob Dylan cover). Both Grasshopper and Jonathan Donahue’s guitars (when he played) were quite forward in the mix, giving the more orchestrated numbers a more visceral kick in live performance. This was fine with me, as I feel that their last couple albums have tended too close to the easy listening end of things – don’t forget that for their first three albums, Mercury Rev were sonic anarchists of the highest order (granted, that was many lineups ago, but whatever).
I got the impression that Donahue’s onstage antics – the dramatic gestures and faux conducting of the band – were a little much for some of the audience to bear (the guy beside me stood for pretty much the whole set, arms crossed, shaking his head), but dammit, when you make pop music as grandiose as Mercury Rev do, you’re allowed to indulge in a bit of cheese factor. I was totally into it and am now quite excited to pick up the new record, which is in stores today. I can only hope that the album arrangements aren’t a letdown after seeing the songs performed live.
Now if Mercury Rev impressed, then Doves, relative to my expectations, absolutely astonished. The two times I’d seen them were in support of their first album, Lost Souls, way back in 2001. My impressions were that they seemed somewhat stiff and uncomfortable onstage, relying on the film projections behind them for visual interest. Their songs were suitably epic in scope, but the band seemed to prefer to step back from the spotlight. I definitely felt something was lacking. Well it’s amazing what difference four years makes – from the word go, Doves (aided by quite the spiffy lightshow) proved they’ve completely grown into their sound. Singer/bassist Jimi Goodwin has become quite the able frontman, still laid back but possessing significantly more presence. Jez Williams on guitar was also considerably more impassioned and animated than I remembered. There was just a dynamic energy to the band that I’m certain wasn’t there two albums ago. Good on them.
Their repetoire has also followed suit – spread out across three albums it’s not as evident, but in a stacked setlist, it’s remarkable how many ass-kicking, fist-waving anthems Doves have written. From the opening stomp of “Pounding” through the main set closer “The Cedar Room” to the final encore of “There Goes The Fear”, it was almost a non-stop set of stadium rock-worthy tuneage. “Satellites” would have called out for waving lighters if people still did that and “The Last Broadcast” received an unexpected disco-fied backbeat that actually worked quite well. The sound in the Kool Haus, notorious for suckage, ranged from passable to quite good. Most of the time the vocals were reasonably clear and the mix balanced. Attempts to recreate the cathedral ambience of “Ambition”, however, proved utterly futile in the unforgiving concrete bunker. But points for trying.
Toronto has always been good to Doves, selling out their first shows here before they had broken in North America at all, and last night was no exception – if Jimi Goodwin was to be taken at his word, we were the best crowd they’d seen on the tour so far. Of course, we were also only the third show so far, but whatever. A rapturous response was the least we could have given them for such a fantastic show. I was quite happy to see that after five years of waiting, Doves have become the live act I had hoped they’d be when I first discovered them. I’m even willing to forgive their continued occasional use of pre-recorded basslines when Jimi straps on the acoustic, and anyone who’s heard me talk about Doves live before last night knows that’s a BIG thing for me to get past.
Pics – there’s a story here. I had been happily clicking away with the camera from the second row through Mercury Rev’s set, no one seemed to care, but after they finished up the security dude waved me over and told me I had to check the camera. I guess it was fine for the openers but not for the headliners. Grudgingly, I gave up my spot up front and headed for the coat check, but when I noticed he wasn’t following, I just went and checked out the merch for a few minutes and wandered back in. I wasn’t going to be able to go back up front, unfortunately, so all my Doves shots are from about halfway back in the concert hall. Thank goodness for over the top lightshows giving me enough to work with, even from back there. It was interesting to work on my perimeter game for a change. Check this, Mr Kool Haus security peon.
Oh yeah, Doves have finally updated their website. There’s Easter eggs. Go look.
Chart reviews the Canadian Wet concerts that rocked Japan this past weekend.
Shows – The Hidden Cameras are doing a tour of Europe this Summer but are playing a show at the Phoenix on June 5 to send themselves off. Tickets should be available at Rotate, Soundscapes and CD Replay soon, if not already. First they were gone for a decade, now they’re back after just four months – Bettie Serveert are coming back to the Horseshoe June 22, tickets $10.50. Nicolai Dunger is also at the ‘Shoe July 14, tickets also $10.50.
Because of the lateness of the Doves show, I had to tape the penultimate episode of 24 – I will try to watch it tonight and play Statler AND Waldorf for you tomorrow.
np – Slowdive / Souvlaki