Saturday, November 1, 1997

Fan Review: Roxy Theater 1997 (1)

The Roxy Theatre
Atlanta, Georgia, USA
November 1, 1997

The Urban Hymns Tour

My Verve Experience

I am a huge Verve fan. I have been since I first heard them back in 1995. A friend of mine had just bought the Northern Soul CD and played “A New Decade” and “This Is Music” back to back for me, oh so nonchalantly, like it was no big deal. “Oh my God, who is that?” it finally dawned on me to demand. I was hooked from that day forward though I’ve only recently been able to admit it in public. I probably would have remained a Verve addict forever even if there were no other albums…but then I went backwards and discovered “A Storm in Heaven.” It was like offering chocolate to a sugar addict who’d only ever eaten Zotz. My DNA now permanently reconfigured, I had mutated into a new, deeper form of Verve addict, never to be the same again. And I’ve loved every minute of it (except for their last album, but I’m healing.)

 I remember my radio station announcing that not only was the Verve coming to town but they had bought nearly half the tickets to the venue. Their plan was to give them away in pairs every hour until they were gone. Trying to win anything from a radio station is not the normal way I go about attempting to fulfill my life’s goals but since I am so against the exorbitant fees scalped through Ticket Molester, I decided surely I could win at least one pair.

The big day arrived and I had won nary a pair. I finally conceded to pay the mafia and get some tickets for a friend and myself. “Sorry sir but that show is sold out.” taunted the agent’s monotonous, cybernetic response. I was amazed that I had allowed my rage over corporate extortion to so severely jeopardize my chance to actually see the Verve before they faded into oblivion. Still refusing any personal responsibility I decided to hate Ticket Molester even more.

“Come on.” I told my friend. “Let’s go down there. I’ve just got a feeling.”

We got to the Roxy Theater in Atlanta, Georgia just after dark. No help were the usual hustlers whose primary source of income comes from buying extra tickets at or below face value and reselling them at twice that plus a mandatory pay-it-or-I’ll-steal-your-car insurance policy. So we walked on and stood at the back of a long line that had formed along the front wall of the theatre. They hadn’t opened the doors yet so I didn’t know who already had tickets and who had been so stupid as to bank the success of what could be the most rapturous evening in music history on a long-shot radio station give-away.

One bright moment in line was when two very British looking chaps walked around the corner toting a recording deck and a big, furry microphone. I mean they were Brit-ass-ish with their paper-white skin and uncombed, horrible haircuts. They both wore the Ashcroft-special winter jackets with fake fur around the hood’s rim. Eventually they walked up to us, shoved the mic in our faces and asked, “wot do you fink of da Verve?” I think I rambled on about how they were the best thing since Pink Floyd and how our then-defunct band used to write and play Verve-ish music. I didn’t realize it then but my inability to articulate was to play a major role later that evening.

 I decided to walk the perimeter of the building to try my luck someplace away from the rest of the line. In back I found the elite of my kind, The Verve Fan Caravan people. This was a brotherhood of true believers who had dropped everything and decided to follow the Verve instead of the Dead. They offered a version of reality that was like a mobile Amsterdam to the true marijuana aficionado. “Hey, anyone got any spare tickets?” I asked the collective. “Good luck, dude. If anyone here had tickets they’d be inside. Verve fans are hardcore.” I hadn’t yet done the math but he was absolutely right. I couldn’t deny that things were looking grim and they looked even worse when I got back around front.

The doors had opened and it was clear who the idiots were. We, the foolish or unlucky stragglers, stood outside in the cold, barred entry from a once-in-a-lifetime evening of musical redemption. The policemen looming in the darkness kept a keen eye out for any kind of scalping transactions. I made a failed attempt to bribe the doorman who obviously had no idea who was about to play that evening. Then it happened. I don’t remember the precise placement of all involved but I do remember a limousine pulling up along the curb in front of the theatre in seeming slow motion. Now, don’t get excited; it wasn’t the Verve, just three friends getting out to see the show. “Do you have any spare tickets?” I asked under my breath. One of the guys stopped. “Do you know who’s playing tonight?” he asked me.

“Of course. The Verve.” I tried to answer without sounding condescending.

“Do you like them or are you just here for something to do?” He asked.

“Are you kidding? I love them.” I replied. “God, if you have some tickets please let me buy them from you.”

“I’m not going to sell them to you. I’m going to give them to you but you’ve got to prove to me you’re a true fan.” He warned.

“Yes! I’m in!” I internally cheered, certain there was no bigger Verve fan in Atlanta.

“What’s your favorite Verve song?” he asked. In that moment I knew the true, nearly comedic reaction known as choking under pressure. I realized that as much as I loved their music I actually only knew the names of a handful of their songs, and none of them would surface in that moment. “I’ve got all their releases.” I blurted.

 “But what’s your favorite song?” he persisted. “I can’t think of the name but it’s on the EP that starts out, ‘Ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ahhhhhhhhhhh.” I attempted to sing the beginning of No Come Down. It was all I could come up with amid the terror of actually experiencing the moment when he would grow weary of my babbling and go on to the next person. Thankfully, one of his friends said, “He’s doing No Come Down.”

Here is where stress, like too much alcohol, prevented the memories of the following details from being imprinted but I do know that I eventually wound up with the tickets in my hand. And I’m fairly certain I never collapsed. My friend and I were going to see the Verve in a small venue and all it cost me was a little faith (and a near heart-attack).

Trying to describe a Verve concert to somebody is like trying to describe an acid trip to a watermelon. It’s almost meaningless to use words to describe what only music can communicate. I remember that they played a good mix of songs that spanned their career; it was by no means just an Urban Hymns show. Perhaps the oldest song they played was A Man Called Sun. They played Stormy Clouds and went straight into Reprise. I saw Nick McCabe play fucking Reprise. It was incredible. It was definitely not to be missed and thank God, literally, I didn’t.

I saw the gracious Samaritan who gave me my tickets on my way out after the show had ended. I wanted him to meet my family and to get his address so I could send him Christmas cards every year for what he had done for me. Instead, I tapped him on the shoulder and offered a heart-felt “thanks, and by the way, One Way To Go is my favorite verve song.”
  • By Chris Evans