28 July 1998

Fan Reviews: Aragon Ballroom 1998

Aragon Ballroom 
Chicago, Illinois, USA
July 28, 1998

The Urban Hymns Tour
Support by DJ Wayne

The second leg of Verve's Urban Hymns tour was supposed to be a shared bill with Massive Attack. In Chicago, they were scheduled to play the Rosemont Horizon (a huge indoor arena). But when Massive Attack realized the venues that were booked for the tour were a size they felt confident they could fill alone, they dropped out. As a result, the Verve-only gig was relocated to the Aragon Ballroom – a smaller, yet still gigantic room with wraparound balconies. It's a strange place. It has ornate, detailed carvings in the corners and along the ceiling, yet also sells crappy pizza at the back of the room. Shortly before the tour began, Nick McCabe announced he would not fulfill any tour obligations. His future with the band was uncertain at this time. So legendary lap steel player BJ Cole was recruited as a last-minute replacement for McCabe. While I felt competent about Cole's talent, I had doubts whether McCabe's space could actually be filled by anyone.

I stood next to the soundboard in the middle of the room. From where I stood, I could see the set list taped up in the sound booth. There was a new song listed – Brave New World. Again, there was no opening band (as far as I remember). The band walked on with Ashcroft in the lead. He was wearing an army jacket, his infamous “who the fuck is Mick Jagger?” T-shirt and a brown floppy hat. There were expensive looking light rigs spread around the stage and wrapped around behind the drum set like a mini roller coaster track. BJ Cole sat down on a platform, stage left, where McCabe would usually be. Richard strapped on an electric guitar and launched into the set.

They started with "Space and Time", followed by "Sonnet". I became painfully aware of what the band was attempting, but not achieving. Richard's distorted electric guitar was supposed to fill the gaps where Nick's gentle tones would usually have faded in and drifted around. It wasn't working. The songs felt rushed and sloppy. It didn't help that the sound was poor and muddied. Richard looked uncomfortable behind an electric guitar. Particularly on songs that usually featured delicate acoustic plucking. I felt bad for them and sad that I had to see them in such a sub-par state. Richard's cries of “c’mon!” weren't enough to get me excited. However, the room seemed to contain a slew of people who had only jumped on the Verve bandwagon after the "Bitter Sweet Symphony" Nike commercial had aired. These people clearly didn't know what they were missing.

The songs that heavily feature Nick's guitar parts on the album were obviously absent. The set consisted of mostly Richard-penned tunes, such as "See You in the Next One", "On Your Own" and "The Drugs Don't Work". When the set neared it's end, I was surprised to hear them attempt "Come On", a song that typically relied on McCabe. It was an empty rendition that avoided any of the guitar solos or freak-outs included on the album version. In addition to playing a watered-down and extended "Bitter Sweet Symphony", they actually played a bad cover of Sly and the Family Stone's Thank You. As the set ended, I realized that they had abandoned the new song – Brave New World. A musical era had ended for me with McCabe's departure. About a week after this show, the Verve announced – again – that they were over. This time it was for good.
  • Review by Jonathan Cohen
Verve Fans, I went to last nights show in Chicago and I have to say that I missed Nick, there was something missing in their sound, the guitar flourishes that Nick adds to many song in UH just weren't filled up by BJ Cole, Richard played guitar in most songs to fill up the sound and he did an admirable job, but it just wasn't enough. After saying all this, I still did enjoy the show, but when I saw them in Nov, with Nick it was much much better.

We got to the Aragon Ballroom about 4:30 an tried to get in, to see if we could get in a hear the soundcheck since we knew there Verve were in there because they had their vans parked on the side of the building. But we didn't get in, so we decided to just stand in the quickly forming line. Some promotions people were handing out free posters, my cousin got one of the Verve in a field, a picture taken from the inside of the UH CD booklet, and I got a cool as hell foil poster with the picture from UH CD, you know the one with Ricard in the middle and the rest of the band forming a V behind him.

At about 6:00 or so they let us in, the stage was set up for the Verve so I knew they would be no opening band. My wife and I got our seats in the balcony and my younger cousin took his spot in front of the stage. We had a nice view of DJ Wayne as he started to spin some records, songs I remember, 'Come Together' and 'Burning Wheel' by Primal Scream, something from the Happy Mondays, some Funk, some Rolling Stones, the song Sly and the Family Stone sing 'I wanna thank you for letting be myself, again' a song that goes ' Thanks to the people', 'She bangs the drums' by the Stone Roses, (excited as hell to hear it), and other stuff that I hadn't heard before. The show must have sold all 4,500 tickets because it looked very full from my vantage point.

Thee Verve took a long time coming on, they came on about 8:15 after the ticket had said 7:30. Richard was wearing his 'Who the fuck is Mick Jagger' Kieth Richards t-shirt, a Reni hat, and sunglasses. I was thinking more in the line of 'Where the Fuck is Nick McCabe. I was totally expecting Rolling People, but they started off with 'Space and Time' with Richard playing guitar. Simon Jones stood right up at the front of the stage with Richard, he looked very tanned. Richard was really belting it out, but right away I noticed the absence of Nick in the sound. I was totally excited to see how the band sounded with BJ Cole, but he just didn't do it for me. They did an electrified version of Sonnet with some cool lights draping the background. Then they did 'This Time' starting off with some cool dance beats.. For Weeping Willow they lowered some projection screens to the sides of the stage and one behind the band, this added some cool effects. Good version of 'weeping willow', Richard had taken off his Reni hat by now that his hair had molded to the shape of it rather well. The next two songs were done rather well, they all sounded different but still good.

By this time, I was asking myself, are they going to play just the new album, but then I heard those sweet history strings. Good version of a great song, the lyrics are so powerful.

Bitter Sweet Symphony was a belter, Richard started by playing it on guitar, but I think he thought that he'd rather just groove to it so he laid his guitar down behind him and started dancing. Great version, sounded a lot like the Haigh Hall one, at the ending jam sess Richard picked up his guitar once again and started fiddling with some knobs. Afterwards the band thanked the audience and walked off.

After about 5 minutes Richard came back, and said this is written for my wife and said he was going to play 'See you in the next one' damn, me and my wife were surprised as hell, she loves the song and I was happy as hell to hear something from ASIH, (I love the song too) but did Richard even know Kate Spiritualized back when he wrote it? Next the band joined him and we were treated to On Your Own. and a kind of different version of Come On, Richard didn't sing a lot of the lyrics, he missed the 'Come on, let the spirit inside you, don't wait to be found, come along to our sound' he did add the ' I wanna thank you for letting me be myself, again' The whole song was mostly done without lyrics, but had a great jam session at the end with great freakout lighting.

Richard did more talking then when I saw them before, but to honest with you I couldn't understand most of it. So no Rolling People, no new songs, and only 3 old ones : (. Missed Nick a hell of a lot, but all in all a decent show. Some nice merchandise, a $8 summer tour program, 4 different regular verve shirts @$25 each, 2 baby doll shirts, 2 posters@ $5 each, and the 'Music Saves' sticker. After the show they were handing out foil stickers similar to the foil poster I got. so that was nice.

the set list in full:

1. Space and Time
2. Sonnet
3. This Time
4. Weeping Willow
5. The Drugs Don't Work
6. Lucky Man
7. History
8. One Day
9. Velvet Morning
10. Bitter Sweet Symphony
11. See You in the Next One (Have a Good Time)
12. On Your Own
13. Come On

To everyone seeing them on this tour, enjoy and let's hope that they stick together and Nick rejoins them for more tours in the future.
  • Source: Verve-Tribute: A tribute to what was website
  • Review by Fawaz