Thursday, January 30, 1992

Gig Review: Deep Space (Live at the Borderline)


Rabid Buzz. Dark soul-baring intensity. Full-on rock madness. What's not to like about Verve?

WHEN SINGER RICHARD Ashcroft makes a nonchalantly late arrival onstage, slips off his wool-collared suede jacket and slouches to the front with all the gangly poise of a '60s rock idol, it's already glaringly obvious that Verve have got it all.

Clad in similarly sombre colours, the trio behind him have started off a starry-eyed ballad called 'Fly The Way', which begins to soar skyward as Richard flashes wild stares at his cohorts, clapping his hands and yelling lungfuls of encouragement with his fists clenched.

He hasn't sung a note yet but his lashing, barely-controlled presence has captivated the full-house crowd (including Wayne Hussey, Lush, Robin Guthrie and sundry curious persons). Although the guy looks either completely wasted or utterly bonkers, he's clearly in charge up there and has the audience in his pocket. People offer him their beer. He asks for a fag and more than several land on the floor around him.

Ashcroft's singing voice has the smooth delivery of Ian McCulloch but none of the cool detachment. He's desperately passionate, ripping at his hair, his shirt, anything, in time with the crises presented in his lyrics. After lines like "She took my love, she took my bed, she took the dreams right out of my head / She took the pills and I paid the bills" ('She's A Superstar'), he finds transcendence in the ensuing swell and rush of grand sweep dynamic rock that might recall tame combos like Echo And The Bunnymen or The House Of Love, if he weren't thrashing about like a basket case, hammering cymbals with his bare hands. During a particularly cathartic instrumental break, the singer hangs off the ceiling by one arm and punches the air with the other, screaming into nothing as his mike's on the floor. Not the choreographed routine of a 48-year-old Mick Jagger, nor the synchronized pogo leaps of Manic Street Preachers. This looks like it's, well, 4 REAL.

THIS IS THEIR 17TH LIVE PERFORMANCE (at London's Borderline) and since everyone in the group is a mere 20, a dash of skepticism should be the order of the day. Still, it's hard to remember a new, young band that generated such a buzz so quickly and met with every expectation so early on. Only Ride spring to mind from the recent past, but at least they had the decency to put out an EP first.

Verve have powered into the scene from nowhere - unless you count Wigan, where Richard and guitarist Nick McCabe began playing in bands together at school. By the time they'd left, 8 months or so ago, they had fixed the Verve line-up with Simon Jones (bass) and Pete Salisbury (drums). Through 1991 they gigged occasionally and had an early demo tape turned down by almost every major and indie record company (several times), until Hut signed them on a four LP deal in September, after seeing them third on the bill at Fulham King's Head.

Now every A&R man in London is wondering how they slipped through the net as each show since December has drawn a bigger crowd and an even more ecstatic response. Thus far, it's solely on the strength of these gigs (word-of-mouth raving, a couple of live reviews) and a few advance tapes in circulation of the debut single, 'All In The Mind', that the fuss has arisen.

BACKSTAGE AFTER THE GIG IS CHAOS. A stream of people drop by, like the stranger who confesses the band were so good she felt sick. Neither too wasted nor at all bonkers, Richard is surprisingly placid in conversation, if totally wired about Verve's progress.

"There's so many average bands around," he reasons in his thick Lancashire brogue. "When people see the spark, when they see it really happening, they're gonna go wild for it. We're trying to give something that's been lacking, something we've gone to gigs for and listened to records for and wanted to hear, and its just not been there. We want to scale the heights, but not in a pompous way."

Musically it's hard to find a current context for Verve. Despite what their name might imply, they're light years away from The Shoegazers. And while there's a hint of Mancdom in such scruffy Northern arrogance, they're hardly baggy - "The Mondays had a hard edge, but we want to bring more things into the game - femininity, sensitivity..."

With each Verve song lasting a moody, epic, Doors-ish five minutes plus live, they seem to fit more aptly in the wider scheme of the '90s that has seen Jane's Addiction, Nirvana and Smashing Pumpkins hitting upon the humungous riffola of the '70s, Ride discovering prog-rock, and Primal Scream inciting audiences to get their rocks off in vintage Rolling Stones style. Bear in mind Nick's dreamy, echoing, sunset-at-the-summer-festival guitar and you can see that these lads are aiming that high up the scale.

"If you've spent seven years waiting to perform in front of people," says Richard, "you've got it all built up inside you. You don't need to try, you know? It's like a fuckin' time bomb every time. A big celebration..."
  • Select, April 1992, story by Andrew Perry, photos by Mark Allan