There’s a lot to like about the Manchester band Doves: They write big, moody epics of songs, filled with swirling, echoed guitar riffs that can achieve a billowy, hypnotic bliss. But at their industry showcase at the El Rey on Monday night, the trio (augmented by a keyboard player) were so desultory and hermetic sounding that their light show was the most animated part of the evening.
Doves pull a nifty trick, weaving together the various strands of music from their hometown: the jittery repetitions of Stone Roses and New Order, the melodic bombast of Oasis and the melodramatic ache of the Smiths in a sound that could be called Manchester United. On record, especially with the pop leanings of the just released “Some Cities” (Heavenly/Capitol), they find an exquisite balance; live it goes awry, combining the spontaneity of dance music with the shoegazers’ lack of charisma.
So no matter how much guitarist Jez Williams’ riffing reaches for a spacey transcendence, Doves remain frustratingly tethered. Even during the feedback coda of “Ambition” or the rave up that ends “One of These Days,” the music remains tightly controlled; slowly unfolding into a chilly, lumbering magnificence.
In their precision and use of a light show to create visual interest, Doves share a great deal with DJ culture. This isn’t too surprising, given that the band started out as the dance outfit Sub Sub. But the cultural exchange between DJ and live music is one-sided: In the late ’90s, there was a palpable excitement in the air when DJs edged toward the excitement of live bands; a live band such as Doves replicating the experience of hearing a DJ is an achievement of a much lower order.
Doves return to Southern California for the Coachella Festival on April 30 and play New York’s Webster Hall May 18-19.