‘We really shouldn’t have left it so long, should we?” asks Jimi Goodwin, halfway through what is only Doves’ eighth show in almost a decade. The timing the end their hiatus – a nine-year silence during which Goodwin released his first solo album, and fraternal guitarist and drummer Jez and Andy Williams started their own band, Black Rivers – could almost be opportunistic. After all, the group were quickly recognised as the bards the comedown when they surfaced at the start the century – the former members house pop act and Haçienda regulars Sub Sub, now playing post-party lullabies and cinematic, ruminative soundtracks to emotionally fragile morning-afters. Given that the nation – the world, even – has been on a colossal bummer for at least a couple years, if ever there was a time for Doves’ balmy, restorative pop to heal our nerves, it’s now.
But while there’s a new album in the works, reports say, we hear none it tonight; instead, we’re treated to a greatest-hits set revisiting all four Doves albums, a trip that’s unabashedly nostalgic, revelling in shared histories between artists and audience. They open with Firesuite, the chugging, gently spacey instrumental that opened their debut album, Lost Souls, and it plays out tonight like the Krautrock equivalent a warm cup tea, never threatening to go truly cosmic – but then that’s never been Doves’ realm: they have always preferred to explore interior, emotional space.
It was Goodwin who first staked out the soulful, warmly turbulent territory in indie-rock later occupied by Guy Garvey, and crooning Sea Song tonight, losing himself in its sleepless nightmares and its invitations to “Drown in me”, he spins melancholia into graceful grandeur. On the bleak Last Broadcast, as he sings “You can’t escape yourself”, the group make something sweet from the heartbreak, cradling Goodwin’s lyric in aching melodies and ever-cresting basslines. This is what they used to call “the big music”, but Goodwin keeps these windswept and dramatic moments grounded, his lyrics measured; he sings like an everyman, and his songs are more powerful for that.
Doves are initially undercut, however, by the customarily wimpy Somerset House sound levels, in danger for the first several songs being drowned out by moderate drunken conversation. “Turn the guitarist up? Too fucking right!” barks Goodwin several numbers in, after which everything gets a little more muscular; by the set’s end, the taut space-rock 10:03 is positively throbbing. But even at relatively sedate volume, Goodwin succeeds in tapping the euphoric undertow on which his downbeat anthems draw, and the grand choruses their biggest songs become group singalongs.
It’s the older tracks that most provoke these communal happy/sad moments, in particular the encore’s one-two punch The Cedar Room – their debut single, colossal Bonham-esque drums underpinning its slow-burn mantra – and There Goes the Fear, perhaps Doves’ signature tune. Tonight, it sounds like Radiohead’s No Surprises set to disco hi-hat, Goodwin weaving his generation’s free-floating anxiety into something comforting and anthemic that draws people together. You wonder how many here have had their fried post-party minds soothed and guided back to safety by Doves’ music over the years; certainly, it’s a trick they’ve pulled f again.
They close with a daft run through Sub Sub’s Space Face in honour the Apollo moon landings. And while Doves’ rumoured new material remains an unknown quantity tonight, the fresh fires they draw from the embers their back catalogue confirm an audience beyond ready for their return.