Not that you would know it from the '90s love that persists in this blog. Some day, I'll embrace the fact that I'm clearly susceptible to reunion shows, no matter how much I doth protest. Then again, there was no back talk when the reformed Verve announced its return to San Francisco for a warm-up show, about 10 years since the band's last appearance in the city.
The Verve, the Warfield, April 23, 2008: Every spring, San Francisco hosts an unofficial music festival: Coachella North. Your mileage will vary from year to year, but with a little effort, it's possible to cherry-pick among the bands booked by the big festival down south and who happen to schedule local dates as well. For us delicate flowers who can't be exposed to real climates, this is a major boon. Coincidentally (or not), it's also the time of the year when my thinly concealed Anglophilia pipes back up.
I'm not actually the biggest Verve fan among my friends. That title goes to my dearest Mori, who considers them one of her two all-time favorites; she even saw their legendary show at Slim's back in 1993 or thereabouts. I took a little while longer to come around, but A Northern Soul is one of my treasured discs. I didn't even mind Urban Hymns and all its ensuing hype; as many times as I heard "Bittersweet Symphony" on the radio or saw the video on MTV, I didn't get sick of it, and I was happy for the guys, though I probably also liked to remind the newbies that the band had done superior work (yawn).
This Northern Soul/Urban Hymns balance dominated the first half of the show, as the band alternated between titles from the two albums. Sadly, there was no material from the early records, but that, too, was expected. Rounding out the set, we got two new songs, one of which didn't yet have a title (I think), while the other bore the Verve trademarks.
The Northern Soul material sent me ape-shit every time, especially when they opened with the propulsive and entirely appropriate "A New Decade." When the next song from that album turned out to be the resounding "This Is Music," I made a silly phangirl prayer that we'd heard them do the album in its entirety. That didn't happen, but we got a pretty great selection nonetheless, including my absolute favorite "On Your Own" and "Life's an Ocean," in its undulating, hypnotic glory.
Urban Hymns got quite the workout, and they came close to hitting every song on the record. To my surprise, I barely remembered that album, even the supposed hits. I mean, I like to pooh-pooh it, but I listened to it a lot back then, and I love certain tracks, such as "Weeping Willow" and "Space and Time." Where we were situated, at the front of the room, just about every tune got the sing-along treatment, but "The Drugs Don't Work" brought out a full chorus of voices, including that of a very drunk girl who tried to rush the stage. Fortunately, she was shooed away before butchering the song too much for the fans in our area.
One of the major draws of this reunion is seeing Nick McCabe playing with the band again. Obviously, his musical contributions helped define the band's identity, and his swirling, psychedelic guitar work, paired with Richard's distinctive lyrics and vocal delivery, as well as the driving rhythm section set the band apart from the other groups coming out of England, both in their early incarnations and later when the commercial acclaim followed. First too swaggering for the shoegaze era, then overly metaphysical for the Lad Rock years, they were always a genre unto themselves. It was an uneasy balance, but it worked for a little while.
And it worked again tonight, as Richard showered Nick with admiration and respect, calling him "the best guitarist in the world." When Nick's string of technical difficulties followed, Richard soothed the audience (not that we were anything less than adoring) by reminding us that it took this long for the band to get back together, we can wait a little while longer to make sure everything is perfect. Overall, they were in great spirits, conferring with each other between songs and hugging one another at the end of the set.
There are two main reasons to go to a reunion show: You saw the band the first time around and want to relive the memories, or you never saw the band and want to find out why they matter at all. I've gone to shows under both circumstances, though in the glut of reunions these days, I tend to favor the former situation when it comes to forking over the cash for tickets. I can't tell you how many times I read the music news and wonder why a band I never cared for in the first place is getting so much attention for coming back together (Stone Temple Pilots?!?).
I'd totally understand if the same complaint were lodged against the Verve. After all, they're essentially a one-hit wonder in the States, and some (of the less enlightened) would say they rode in on Oasis's coattails in the '90s. I beg to differ, of course, and would likely launch into an extended lecture about the mutual admiration that has long flowed between the two bands, but that's neither here nor there. But even if I didn't have that pedantic streak, I'd go to this show just because I was so blown away by their '97 gig at the same venue.
Oddly, though, almost as soon as the show started, I realized how little I recall of that concert or of the couple of other gigs I've seen of the band, as well as Richard solo, as impressive as they were. Maybe it had something to do with being on the rail tonight; maybe I just missed the band. Whatever the explanation, it felt as if I was seeing the band -- especially Richard -- in a new light. The force of the music felt familiar, but for the first time ever, Richard's charisma hit me hard.
I apologize for fixating on the frontman, but it was impossible not to do so tonight, even when I knew that Nick McCabe was coaxing out such gorgeous riffs to my left. Though I have who knows how many magazines adorned with Richard Ashcroft's face and read countless stories trying to capture his presence, they did him no justice. His facial features -- those insanely high cheekbones, the strikingly prominent nose, and the distractingly full lips -- taken apart might sound like a caricature, especially when set on his stick-thin figure. However, they worked entirely in his favor as he commanded the attention of 2,000-plus fans. I couldn't stop watching him, especially when he went into that faraway zone and stepped through his dance (?) moves. And for extended spells, I couldn't think of him as anything other than his nicknames: Captain Rock, as Noel Gallagher called him, or Mad Richard, as he was known in the U.K. music press.
I don't put a whole lot of faith in reunions; I'm of the school that's convinced a band will fall apart under the same tensions that came between them the first time around. Regardless, I wish them the best of luck, and I know I'll be back for more, should they return.
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