Doves, University, Exeter <br/> Arcade Fire, King's College, London

Hairy pigeons with attitude
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The Independent Culture

I can't escape the B-word. In a world where Gillette's excellent, albeit obscenely over-priced M3 Power exists, there's no excuse for walking on a stage with a beard. Now, I know what you're thinking. So what if Jimi Goodwin doesn't shave, but prefers to amble about plumply and hirsutely, in trainers and jeans? He's a musician, not a model. But this is Doves' downfall, in a microcosm. On record, they're an impressive proposition, potentially the saving grace of stadium indie rock. So, three albums down the line, why are they not playing stadia, but student unions instead? There must be something missing.

I can't escape the B-word. In a world where Gillette's excellent, albeit obscenely over-priced M3 Power exists, there's no excuse for walking on a stage with a beard. Now, I know what you're thinking. So what if Jimi Goodwin doesn't shave, but prefers to amble about plumply and hirsutely, in trainers and jeans? He's a musician, not a model. But this is Doves' downfall, in a microcosm. On record, they're an impressive proposition, potentially the saving grace of stadium indie rock. So, three albums down the line, why are they not playing stadia, but student unions instead? There must be something missing.

Now, I'm not seriously suggesting that 20 minutes in front of the mirror with some shave gel would catapult them to Wembley. But the mentality which I infer from Doves' reluctance to scrub up - ie, the typical Trainer Rock notion that all vanity is in some way unspiritual - just might be a key main obstacle. Because you can only go so far with the attitude that it's all about the music (maaan). And the distance down the wire between the CD player and the headphones is about as far as it will take you.

Live performance is about communication, and aside from an incoherently mumbled remark about their flatmate sitting on the balcony (or something), we get none. The arty back-projections of soft focus pine forests and monochrome Mancunian cityscapes are meant to fill the gap, but fail.

The songs themselves aren't a problem. "I'm surprised at how many songs I recognise," says one bystander, but I'm not: these memorable melodies are constantly co-opted by 5 Live radio trailers and this-week-in-football round-ups on telly. Nor is the noise they make: the pounding drums of Andy Williams and the noise overload of his brother Jez's guitar are a formidable combination, even if the latter's top string motifs - coupled with Goodwin's occasional vague Bono-isms ("and you give it all away...") - are sometimes uncomfortably close to U2 territory.

The atmosphere the trio are able to generate in a concert hall, however, is. There are some whose feelings towards Doves, somewhat bewilderingly, verge on the religious. But the mood in Exeter Uni is monastic, not rapturous (exacerbated, perhaps, by a local bye-law which seems to force the bar to shut roughly an hour after anyone wakes up). Nobody laughs or cries or screams or jumps around. Everybody sways and nods, and claps appreciatively in the gaps, when they're meant to. If I wanted to sway and nod and clap appreciatively, I could do that at home, where I could choose any number of CDs more deserving than Doves' latest (an intrinsically admirable piece of work though it is). The St John's Ambulance crews stand idle in their dramatic green jumpsuits, as frustrated by their lack of action as the Walmington-On-Sea Home Guard.

I really want Doves to grow wings, take me higher, and fly me away. Instead, as I stand waiting on the launchpad, they merely remind me that doves are, after all, nothing more than pigeons with a superiority complex. There's another B-word flashing in big neon capitals, and I can't ignore it any longer. BORING.

I'll never forget the day the old arcade burned down. White's Amusements at the end of the main Barry Island road was my favourite place to waste an hour. A corrugated iron shack which hadn't changed since the Fifties, its chief gimmick was that all the machines only took the old money - great big pennies with Britannia on them - which you bought at the counter with your decimal coinage.

Actually, the first line of that paragraph is a total lie. I have no idea when it burned down, but one summer I came home from uni and all that remained were a few charred stumps. Arcade Fire, an indie band from Canada, summon this memory, via the literal and banal and obvious means of their name (pure accident, of course). They also, however, summon a host of similar memories by the less banal and less accidental means of their music.

The Montrealers' debut album, Funeral, is achingly evocative of temps perdus. This may or may nor be because the band attended the funerals of several close family members during its making. Similarly, the fact that it is, paradoxically, hugely life-affirming may be connected to the fact that co-frontpersons Win Butler and Regine Chassagne married each other during the same period.

The male members of Arcade Fire look like overgrown schoolboys, the females - Chassagne on kettle drums, triangles, xylophones, and the occasional Björkish vocal (which may raise the tattooed eyebrow of the actual Björk, who is present tonight), and Sarah Neufeld on violin - like debutantes.

I lose count of their members: if there are six, they sound like a dozen, if there are seven, they sound like 14. This music has the same uplifting zeal and intensity as The Polyphonic Spree, late Flaming Lips and early Mercury Rev, and the same emotional power as The Magic Numbers. They also have a clear affinity with the post-punk set: I hear echoes of the Bunnymen, and we're treated to a cover of Talking Heads' "This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody)".

Many bands know how to make a great entrance. Very few know how to make a great exit. Arcade Fire's is extraordinary. The showstopper - literally - is "In the Backseat", during which Butler, Chassagne and co silence the room with an a cappella breakdown. Rather than simply walking out to the wings, they descend into the audience, marching in line through the crowd and banging a big bass drum, chanting the song's "oh oh oh oh" refrain the whole way. If you're gonna go out, go out burning.

s.price@independent.co.uk

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