After surviving multiple breakups, The Verve are back. The British rockers, best known for their late-nineties single "Bittersweet Symphony," played the second of two shows at the WaMu Theater at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday night. It's been years since the band, currently in its original four-person lineup, last toured the United States. Despite this, Tuesday night's concert proved that they can still put on a great live show.
The Verve opened the night with "A New Decade," the first track on 1995's A Northern Soul. Lead singer Richard Ashcroft's voice was clear and resonated throughout the venue, holding its own against the psychedelic swirling sounds of the accompanying music. The setlist featured a large number of songs from 1997's Urban Hymns, even though the band has plenty of older material along with plans to release a new album this year. That being said, the band did play a few older songs that included a b-side and "Already There" from their 1993 full-length debut, A Storm in Heaven. They also included two new songs: "Sit and Wonder" and "Love is Pain."
Though I didn't have the best seats in the house, it was clear that the band members were having a good time. Ashcroft was a mesmerizing free spirit, lightly dancing on his bare feet as he pumped his fists and motioned to the crowd. He continued to prance around slightly even when he picked up the guitar for various songs. Ashcroft was also fairly chatty throughout the night. In addition to voicing the occasional "thank you" and making a slight public service announcement that warned against dropping acid in the studio, he told the crowd a variety of anecdotes, referring to stopping at the Chelsea Hotel during their first time in New York and a subsequent disastrous gig. He ended the story by saying that the experience had been great anyway, since it was New York after all, resulting in a roar of approval from the crowd.
Guitarist Nick McCabe and bass player Simon Jones were also fairly energized, and shared a warm moment towards the end of the night when the two of them hugged at the conclusion of "Come On." While the night had its mellow moments with songs like "Sonnet" and "The Drugs Don't Work," the set grew increasingly upbeat as the show went on. "Rolling People" was a raucous hit with the crowd, with flashing lights accentuating the beats at the start of the song. "Lucky Man" was also incredibly popular with the concertgoers and it seems the entire crowd was singing along. And "Come On," the last song before the encore, turned into controlled chaos in its final minutes with lights flashing at every millisecond to accompany the cacophonous music. But while it was neat to witness this, it might not be a bad idea for the band to opt for a less intensified light show during the end of that song.
The Verve finally performed "Bittersweet Symphony" at the end of the night, playing the song first during a two-song encore. Screams echoed through the crowd as the familiar string samples filled the air and many sang along as Ashcroft, donned in a black coat that was slightly reminiscent of the song's iconic music video, launched into the verse. While Ashcroft performed with enthusiasm, he stopped a couple of times, choosing to let the crowd sing during some of the song's crucial moments. Cliche as it may sound, I couldn't help singing my heart out during the song as it brought back a lot of memories. Though the song is considered a classic at this point, it's hard to believe that it's actually a decade old.
The night finally ended with a performance of "Love is Pain," one of the aforementioned new songs. It was an upbeat way to end the night. The song contained a dance element that made me wonder if the band is going through some kind of New Order phase, but people seemed to have a mixed reaction to it as they left the show. The sample used during the song was a bit much, but I am interested to hear what the final cut will sound like if the band chooses to record it for the next album.
All in all, it was a great night and it looks as though The Verve will be able to make a pretty solid comeback. Even though they didn't play a lot of new material during the show, the band sounded fresh and seemed happy — a good sign for the future.
Rad Perspectives is an outlet for Radhika, a young journalist and graduate student, to do a little fun writing on the side. Posts typically focus on pop culture, music, travel, and miscellaneous observations.