Reviewed Nov. 17, 1997.
In what may well prove a brilliant tactical move, the Verve singer Richard Ashcroft broke up his band in 1995 after their much-hyped sophomore album failed to scale any significant commercial heights. He then reformed the group to much media fanfare earlier this year, subsequently releasing a critically acclaimed (and in the U.K., wildly successful) new record that appears to have put the band in the current lead as successors to Oasis’ fast-crumbling crown as the Kings of Britpop.
At the first of two sold-out shows at the downtown Mayan, near the end of their three-week U.S. tour, the quintet exceeded expectations with a boldly conceived, almost flawlessly delivered show that revealed Ashcroft’s talents as a gifted singer and songwriter.
The lanky, handsome singer spun soaring tales of hopelessness and hopefulness around the band’s graceful mix of mod and classic, R&B-based rock, his smooth voice ably carrying the pretty melodies aloft in the spacious theater.
Even country influences found their place in the band’s songs, as on the acoustic-based “If Heaven Falls” and “Sonnet,” from the new “Urban Hymns” (Virgin) album, the latter performed in front of a backdrop of a despondent man with his head in his hands.
Other key moments of the 85-minute show included their string-based current single “Bitter Sweet Symphony,” a reworking of the Rolling Stones song, as well as Ashcroft’s solo acoustic turn during the encore “Come On,” which ended in a massive, celebratory wall of guitar feedback.