Doves, Hammersmith Palais, London

Their most humble majesties
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The Independent Culture

Doves have always given good gig. Tonight, however, is a very different proposition. Gone are the pre-show short films featuring the band driving a milk float across the Moors. Gone is the blokey between-song banter from the front man, Jimi Goodwin. Gone, indeed is the notion of a front man altogether.

Doves have always given good gig. Tonight, however, is a very different proposition. Gone are the pre-show short films featuring the band driving a milk float across the Moors. Gone is the blokey between-song banter from the front man, Jimi Goodwin. Gone, indeed is the notion of a front man altogether.

What we do get is a band who have freshly emerged from the Parr Studios, in Liverpool - where Coldplay have just completed their third album - and Fort Augustus, by Loch Ness, having made an album, Some Cities, that could prove to be their Rush of Blood to the Head. Doves have extended their palette, and are a little bit humbled by the thing they've managed to pull out of themselves.

Taking to the stage on the second night of a three-date mini-tour before Some Cities' February release, they plunge straight into "Snowdon", a great new track, whose chorus - "Why should we care?" - breathtakingly puts paid to the slighty parsimonious accusations of defeatism and platitude that have hovered over the band's first two albums, Lost Souls (2000) and The Last Broadcast (2002). It's a joyous song of equilibrium and escape, that has the hairs on the back of your neck start pointing skyward like little photoreceptors: self-assured without being bombastic, and emotionally engaging without any of Embrace's bogus demagoguery.

In a time where anthemic rock has become sullied by cliché, where the sentiments are so trite your flesh virtually stings from all the old chestnuts that have been hurled, it's a pleasure to see a band who can engage the emotions without being particularly arcane lyrically. And it's not just the music. Bathed in green and magenta lights, a rapt audience is fed crisply rendered images of soaring skyscrapers and solar systems, perfectly complementing a sound that operates like a spatial vortex: transporting, absorbing, satisfying.

The shimmering "Words", sung by guitarist Jez Williams, and the alternately thundering and fragile "New York" sail by like sheets of ice in the tide, and then it's straight into the new single, "Black and White Town" (out on 7 February), which capers along to Andy Williams's skipping Northern Soul drumbeat. His Stakhanovite approach to his drumkit is typical of the band's industrious, egalitarian ethos, where indie self-effacement becomes a virtue and the music is allowed to speak for itself - a Spiritualised for the people.

Crowd-pleasers such as "The Cedar Room", "Satellites", "Caught by the River" and "Pounding" are interspersed with some majestic new material. The ballad "Ambition" - which was recorded in a Benedictine monastery for the new album - and the introspective "I Almost Forget Myself" allow the band to indulge their Pink Floyd aspirations and acquaint the audience with new, less immediately gratifying tracks. They even get away with playing a B-side ("Darker"), and are self-assured enough to encore with the moodily instrumental "Fire Suite".

The setlist is a masterclass in negotiating the "give-'em-what-they-want" download ethos where the audience is used to being able to shuffle around what they're listening to, like a deck of cards. So, no aces on demand here: no "Space Face", in particular, the band's immensely popular usual closer. But such is the band's intuitive understanding of how to work a crowd - like a Hacienda DJ of yore - that with a simple, big-hearted "Merry Christmas", the band depart with the perfect parting gift: the aptly festive "There Goes the Fear", with its Rio Carnival drums and twinkling, music-box guitars.

Serious without being earnest, tireless without being remotely tiresome, brawny yet intelligent, Doves deserve entry into rock's premier league because they give great gig. If Some Cities can give Chris Martin a run for his money, it'll be a Happy New Year for stadium rock indeed.

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