Doves, The Middle East @ Palace Theatre, Melbourne (28/07/2009)

Why on earth is Kingdom of Rust not shortlisted for the Mercury Music Prize? If we here in Melbourne didn’t love it so much already, Doves show at the Palace Theatre certainly cemented such feelings. There seemed no better way to cure the winter blues than with one of the best UK acts around and direct from Splendour in the Grass, they themselves had had all the warming they needed.

Taking the stage to welcome early comers were Townsville’s The Middle East, who’d just headed down from Byron as well. Unfortunately, the guys and girl were far too modest for most punters and they had to seriously compete against the crowd’s increasing volume throughout the set. Simply put, The Middle East play gorgeous songs that can you can so easily get caught up in. Don’t let their calmness fool you though – just as the band have you lulled, they’ll burst out into one of their harmonised wail sessions and all of a sudden have you tapping your toes. Blood is one such number, which they chose to finish with, and it was hard for punters at the Palace not to be impressed.

Doves appeared in the darkness with the opening beats of Jetstream clambering out of the speakers. Jez William’s voice sung out the verses, but it was the song’s break, when brother Andy’s beating bass drum kicked in, that the band really made their presence known. Just as it is on the record, the opening track was a perfect intro, weaving Doves’ dark majesty into the room.

The gloominess turned to a bevy of brighter spotlights as Jimi Goodwin stepped up for lead vocals (and Jez took to dancing) on Snowden and then Winter Hill, which proved early that Doves deserve their reputation as a great live act – they were tight, energetic and more than a pleasure to watch. Old favourite Pounding was next, as the band began to “heavy” up their act, moving from the more subdued introductions to the real rock show. Being English, the inevitable cold weather quotes emerged; Jimi likening the chill outside to their summer and telling us how much he loves it. Did anyone agree? Not likely.

Continuing into the set, Almost Forgot, Words and The Greatest Denier all appeared to the pleasure of the crowd, who were lit up by this stage thanks to Jimi’s insistence that the crowd get the spotlight, not him (“Magenta doesn’t suit my skin tone”). Amongst these, new song 10:03 appeared as arguably the highlight of the whole set, with the lighting engineer bolstering the group’s already epic delivery.

Kingdom of Rust was tweaked a little for the stage and provided an upbeat diversion, though Black and White Town soon stole that attention, before Jimi delivered what he thought was a hilarious joke – “How do you sell a 70 ft yacht to a midget?”… – and bombed for the first (and only) time of the night (he apologised three times). The rockier side continued with The Outsiders and 2000’s The Cedar Room to finish off the set before the inevitable encore (well, Jez’s funny cowbell hadn’t been used yet anyway…)

Appearing with an acoustic guitar and without Jez or Andy, Jimi took to the microphone upon his return to perform the beautiful Northenden. Andy then took lead vocals for the first time on Here It Comes before places were back to normal for Last Broadcast and There Goes The Fear – a great concluder, complete with the band becoming a percussive unit (Jimi bashing an additional tom and cymbal and Jez taking his cowbell) to finish things off. Then there was a little teasing after their departure, with punters almost sure they’d come back again. They didn’t, even though the monitor did still say Space Face

After Doves’ show at the Palace, it’s no wonder at all that the Manchester lads were moved to a venue much bigger than the first anticipated Billboard. Catch the Sun and Sky Starts Falling weren’t there, sure, but the set list was still a great representation the band’s four albums. It’s been a long time between drinks; let’s hope they’re back sooner next time.