Sunday, May 21, 2000

Ashcroft's Wall Street Shuffle

The ex-Verve frontman plays his second solo set since the band split before a tiny, rapturous audience in New York...

By the time Richard Ashcroft steps in front of the industry-only crowd at Joe's Pub in New York City on Friday night (May 19), he's had a long day, even though it's only 7 p.m. It's because he was up at an hour unheard of for a rock star.

By 8:30 a.m., Ashcroft had joined the legions of suits on Wall Street, where he spent the day shooting the video for 'Money To Burn'. Later that night, the former Verve frontman hovers over a photographer, points to the bags under his eyes, and asks, "How many records do you think this will sell?" The hope is, lots. Ashcroft's hush-hush gig in downtown Manhattan attracts both the attention and respect of a crowd notorious for being nonplussed. He performs seven complete songs and two snippets.

His set begins with 'Bitter Sweet Symphony' and includes 'I Get My Beat', 'You On My Mind (In My Sleep)', 'Money To Burn' and 'C'Mon People (We're Making It Now)', and he dedicates 'Lucky Man' to his wife Kate, who is sitting front and center, and his son Sonny.

On 'New York', Ashcroft changes the lyrics for the local crowd. Referring to NYC Mayor Rudy Giuliani, whose marital problems, disclosure of cancer and failed Senate bid have made him the talk of the town, Ashcroft chips in: "I heard Giuliani's really cleaned this place up/But I can still find 1,000 ways to get messed up." The New Yorkers cheer.

Throughout the set, the lanky singer sticks to his 12-string guitar, except for 'On A Beach', when he switches to an electric. But something's not right and he stops strumming, declaring, "Not tonight, people." He also teases - and surprises - by playing just a bit of 'So Sister', a B-side to 'Urban Hymns'' 'Bitter Sweet Symphony'. His tambourine, untouched all night, hangs on one of two mikes, and he never ends up playing 'Alone With Everybody''s first single, 'A Song For the Lovers'.

Oddly, the "collectible" of the evening is not Ashcroft's set list or sweat-drenched towel. It is his cigarettes. He lights up before a song and when it's time to play, he passes his half-smoked stogie to a member of the audience. Surprised by the clamor he causes, Ashcroft assures the crowd it's no big deal, he's got more. Later on, when he smokes another and stamps it out on the floor, someone quickly grabs the butt. The cigarette may be out, but Ashcroft is still smoking.