02 May 2008

The Verve reunion sweet to T.O. fans

Mad Richard is back in the saddle.

That would be "Mad" Richard Ashcroft, the charismatic frontman for '90s British psych-rock band The Verve, recently regrouped and in Toronto on Thursday night for the Wigan band's first concert in Canada in a decade.

The lanky and darkly handsome Ashcroft took the stage in front of a sold-out crowd at Ricoh Coliseum with his usual rock star cool while bassist Simon Jones was noticeably more animated, often wildly grinning and holding his hands up in the air beckoning the audience to clap and sing along, alongside more reserved lead guitarist Nick McCabe and pounding drummer Pete Salisbury.

Missing from the lineup was second guitarist-keyboardist Simon Tong who replaced McCabe when he left and remained when he returned before The Verve's final split in 1999. (Tong's since hooked up with Blur's Damon Albarn and The Clash's Paul Simonon so don't feel too badly for him.)

In any case, Tong's absence hardly affected The Verve's punishing sound levels or overall dynamic during a riveting hour-and-40-minute set that featured expansive, groove-driven anthems fuelled by plenty of guitars and strobe lights.

And just as Ashcroft, all outstreched arms and swaying body, was hitting his stride vocally on such standout songs as Sonnet, Space And Time, This Is Music, and Life's An Ocean, he sat down on the stage and took his shoes off, eventually getting rid of his socks too.

It's one his trademarks to perform in barefeet and thankfully he didn't let his Toronto fans down.

Appropriately, The Verve opened the evening with A New Decade from their 1995 sophomore effort, A Northern Soul, seeming to announce they are back in the 21st century to stay, or at least for one new album, expected later this year.

Two new tracks - the decent if not spectacular Sit And Wonder, and the more promising and electronic-influenced Love Is Pain - were played on Thursday night.

Otherwise, the set was made up of a nice sampling of tunes from their three existing records, rounded out by 1993's A Storm In Heaven and their 1997's monster breakthrough Urban Hymns, with such crowdpleasers as Weeping Willow, History, and Rolling People.

However, they saved the best save for last as they trotted out Urban Hymns anthems The Drugs Don't Work, Lucky Man - whose dramatic ending was punctuated by Ashcroft holding his acoustic guitar up by one arm up in the air - and Come On at the very end of the show.

Their biggest hit, Bittersweet Symphony, which sampled the Rolling Stones orchestral version of The Last Time, and prompted lawsuits, opened the encore with Ashcroft urging the crowd to reclaim the song from "all the lawyers and managers."

Ashcroft, who made softer-sounding, more folk-oriented solo records in his post-Verve phase, truly seemed like a man who had found his musical niche again.

And that's very good news for Verve fans indeed.

Source: Sun Media, written by Jane Stevenson