The Verve

By Jae-Ha Kim
Daily Variety
Reviewed July 28, 1998

The Verve
(Aragon Ballroom, Chicago; Capacity 4,500; $21)
Presented by Jam Productions.
Band: Richard Ashcroft, Simon Jones, Pete Salisbury, Simon Tong, B.J. Cole, Steve Sidelynk.

Richard Ashcroft had his work cut out for him when the Verve kicked off their American tour in Chicago.  Instead of performing at the 13,400-capacity Rosemont Horizon as originally planned, poor ticket sales forced the Englishmen to move the show to the Aragon Ballroom, a venue one-third the Horizon’s size.

Then, too, the quintet performed minus lead guitarist Nick McCabe, who had announced earlier this month that he would not go on the road with his bandmates.

Instead of crumbling under the pressure, the enigmatic frontman for England’s most popular band since, well, Oasis, confidently strode on stage in flared jeans and a floppy hat.  Staring intensely at the capacity crowd, Ashcroft strummed his guitar and led the Verve into a transcendental rendition of “Space and Time” from the group’s breakthrough album “Urban Hymns.”

The hypnotic number set the pace for the 90-minute show, which was top heavy on cuts from “Urban Hymns” and ended with a 3-song encore. Ashcroft acknowledged the fans as well as the insufferable heat inside the venue, and the fans applauded loudly each time he spoke, sang or removed his hat. But the audience respected the beautiful despair of his lyrics by refraining from moshing or body surfing.

The addition of touring musicians B.J. Cole on steel guitar and Steve Sidelynk on percussion filled out the group’s lush sound. And the Verve took advantage of the studio musicians’ experience and experimented with different arrangements. Cole’s country tinged guitars were surprisingly effective on the ballad “The Drugs Don’t Work.”

But McCabe’s inspired playing was sorely missed, especially on numbers such as the show closer, “Come On.” In an attempt to fill his absence, Ashcroft played guitar on more songs than in the past. Unfortunately, this didn’t allow him the freedom to roam the stage.  He was all business, even eschewing his preferred barefeet for more sensible sandals.

An hour into the concert, the Verve performed their hit “Bitter Sweet Symphony.”  If Ashcroft is tired of performing this delicate, stirring song, he showed no signs of it.   Eyes closed, head swaying, the angular singer allowed himself to get lost in the crescendoing chorus.

As fans exited the Aragon, some worried that this might be the band’s last hurrah.  The mercurial relationship between Ashcroft and McCabe is tenuous at best. The last time the two fought, Ashcroft disbanded the Verve.

In many ways, this tour is a bittersweet reminder of the group’s fragility.

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