In a year of money-spinning reunions, The Verve — singer Richard Ashcroft, guitarist Nick McCabe, bassist Simon Jones and drummer Pete Salisbury, back together after splitting in 1998 — have been quick to point out they’re doing it “for the music.” The sentiment was given a degree of authenticity by the revelation that recording is well advanced on a new album, due in the spring.
But while last month’s half dozen low-key U.K. gigs — to sharpen the quartet’s collective chops before returning to the studio — gave further credence to the argument, the current schlep around U.K. arenas tells a different story. Indeed a glance at the merchandise stand, offering everything from t-shirts to mugs, tote bags and even underwear, suggested the lure of lucre also played a part in reuniting a genuinely original act who rocketed into orbit with a sublime combination of space rock and indie anthems.
Sadly, the opening show of the arena tour was rather more down to earth, as a newly-shorn and peroxide-blonde Ashcroft led his cohorts (who seemed for all the world like a backing band rather than equals) through a lackluster performance littered with errors (“That’s what you get with live music,” claimed Ashcroft). It was further marred by dreadful sound quality and an audience apparently only interested in hearing the hits and whose idea of expressing themselves was tossing plastic cups of beer in the air.
McCabe suffered most from the former, as his guitar playing — traditionally one of the act’s greatest strengths — got so lost in the mix as to be barely audible, even when it was supposed to be center stage during the band’s much-lauded psychedelic workouts.
Not that the latter were much in evidence, as the size of venue and crowd — by its nature containing rather more casual fans than obsessives — had an undeniable impact on a shorter show and set list, which saw old classics (many aired at the smaller venues) jettisoned in favor of more radio-friendly material. The latter largely consisted of tunes from 1997’s all-conquering “Urban Hymns,” which contributed nine of the night’s 15 numbers.
Despite being fairly pedestrian, the ballads/singles like “Sonnet,” “The Drugs Don’t Work” (awful), “Lucky Man” (better) and the ubiquitous “Bittersweet Symphony” were greeted with roars of approval. But it was the lesser-known numbers such as “Space and Time,” “Velvet Morning” and “Come On” (demoted to main set closer from its usual encore position) that better demonstrated the originality of which the band is truly capable.
Earlier material, such as the sublime “Life’s An Ocean,” was few, far between and often spoiled by chatter throughout the auditorium, to the point that Ashcroft bizarrely felt the need to thank the masses for listening to 1992’s “Let the Damage Begin” (with the caveat “we’ve been away so long, they’re all old”). In reality they should have been thanking him, but on a night as disappointing as this, maybe he had a point.
Here is the Verve’s set list:
“This Is Music”
“Life’s An Ocean”
“Space and Time”
“On Your Own”
“The Rolling People”
“Let the Damage Begin”
“The Drugs Don’t Work”