Monday, May 5th, 2008
This Is Music
Photo by Frank Yang
The story of The Verve has always been a tumultuous one. In the late ’90s while the likes of Oasis, Blur, Manic Street Preachers and Pulp were all enjoying their greatest successes, they technically didn’t even exist. And when they finally achieved that level of worldwide success with “Bittersweet Symphony”, effectively a coda for the Britpop era, they didn’t end up seeing a penny of the royalties from the song and the band disintegrated again on the North American tour in support of Urban Hymns. If ever there was a band that had unfinished business to attend to, that needed and deserved a victory lap, it was The Verve.
And so it is they’ve returned, almost a decade on from their last dissolution and on Thursday night capped a brief North American tour with a date at Toronto’s Ricoh Coliseum. High ticket prices and a large venue kept it from being a sell-out, but there was a definite air of anticipation amongst the audience (mostly guys in their mid-30s – shock!) leading up to showtime, an atmosphere aided by the absence of an opening act. People were here to see The Verve and Verve only. And perhaps the Toronto FC. The local soccer team were playing right next to the arena and judging from the number of jerseys in the crowd, more than a few were making the evening a double-header – perhaps the band as well, considering that when they finally bounded onstage both bassist Simon Jones and guitarist Nick McCabe were sporting Toronto FC scarves.
But with the crashing opening chords of “A New Decade”, there was no doubt that the band was back and they were making up for lost time. Sounding loud and as glorious as the boomy arena acoustics would allow, they tore through a set that hit on most all the essential points of Urban Hymns and A Northern Soul, well balancing the ballads with the cosmic jams, and reaching back to A Storm In Heaven for “Already There”. They also interjected a couple of new songs that leaned markedly into the jammier, groovier reaches of their repertoire – the first, “Sit And Wonder”, was a bit of a stunner and probably should have been swapped in the set list with the encore closer “Love Is Noise” which, following “Bittersweet Symphony”, came off feeling decidedly slight. The absence of “On Your Own” from the set was felt but otherwise, most everything you’d want to hear was in the cards – after all, this is a band with only one more album than they’ve had break-ups. There’s not really a huge repertoire to draw from.
It was especially impressive how in almost no time at all, frontman Richard Ashcroft was able to wipe away the bitter taste of a wholly lamentable solo career. Looking as healthily cadaverous as ever, Ashcroft has lost none of his immense charisma – the man was born to be a rock star and this is the band he was meant to front. But he knows, as everyone knows, that that band is nothing without Nick McCabe. The famously volatile guitarist had been essentially MIA since abruptly leaving the band during that last North American tour was astonishing to see and hear. Though few would dispute he’s one of the best British guitarists of the last 20 years, his influence and profile is limited by the fact that his style is simply uncopyable. In his hands the guitar is less an instrument than a conduit to sounds not of this world and on this night, that antennae was pointed straight skyward and receiving at full strength.
Perhaps the most significant thing to take away from the show and the reunion as a whole, thus far, is that the band has managed to recover the chemistry that made them so formidable a decade ago and they seem absolutely determined to once again be a vital creative force. And though we’ll have to wait until their fourth album – already recorded and waiting to be mixed – arrives in late Summer to see just how creative they are, they definitely have the vital part down.
Reunions can be notoriously dodgy – I only have to think back to the Pixies show in 2004 to remember what it is to see a technically perfect but utterly soulless affair they can be – but for the Verve, there was none of that. They were everything you would have wanted them to be and more. Welcome back.
Photos: The Verve @ Ricoh Coliseum – May 1, 2008
MP3: The Verve – “Lucky Man”
MP3: The Verve – “The Thaw Sessions”
Video: The Verve – “Bittersweet Symphony”
Video: The Verve – “The Drugs Don’t Work”
Video: The Verve – “Lucky Man”
Video: The Verve – “Sonnet”
Video: The Verve – “History”
Video: The Verve – “All In The Mind”
MySpace: The Verve
I should mention that when I walked into the arena, the first song I heard being played by the DJ was… Spacemen 3 (thanks for the correction, Greg). Thought that was kind of funny considering the history between Richard Ashcroft and Jason Pierce over Pitchfork piece last week that the UK and North American release dates for Spiritualized’s Songs In A & E, originally set a fortnight apart, have met halfway and the record will now be released the same week in both territories – over here, it will now be out on May 27.
That’s the same day as This Is Not The World, the new record from The Futureheads from which they’ve just released a new video (via This Is Fake DIY). There’s also a remix of their previous single, “The Beginning Of The Twist”, available for grabs at RCRDLBL.
Head over to the band’s MySpace to hear a couple of tracks from The Wedding Present’s next album El Rey, out May 20. Wired ran an interview with Dave Gedge a couple weeks ago covering topics like concept records and Steve Albini.
If you were waiting for the V Fest Vancouver lineup… keep waiting. For a year. They’ve canceled the event for this year on account of not being able to find any acts. Another casualty of the busiest festival season on record (see also: Vineland, Vegoose – V apparently does not necessarily stand for “victory”).
Saw Iron Man this weekend… my objective, non-fanboy opinion? IT KICKED ASS. Seriously, immensely satisfying, like a good steak dinner. Or if you’re vegetarian, a fine falafel. The only thing I found wanting was the fact that I’ll have to wait at least two years for another one. Batman, the ball is in your court.