Epic Rock From The Verve

Group mesmerize Washington, D. C. audience.

The next time The Verve make a tour stop in Washington, D.C., they won't be

playing the 9:30 Club -- they'll be far too popular for such a small

venue. Indeed, the British rockers were already preparing for their

self-prophesied impending superstardom during their concert at the 9:30 on

Monday, as evidenced by the seemingly stadium-sized sound and light system

they brought to the packed room. Pity those unprepared with earplugs to

reign in the decibels to only moderately damaging levels. Pity also -- as

the band was surely thinking -- those who will be left behind when The

Verve conquer the world.

Having dispensed with any opening act -- perhaps superstitious that the

slot would bring some unknown the same luck it seemingly brought Oasis

several years back -- the band blasted off with 1995's "A New Decade" just

as they had done on their tour opener Sunday night in Georgia. The choice

could hardly be more appropriate for the scale of The Verve's attack: their

sound was truly 10 years' big.

"Who am I running from?" singer Richard Ashcroft wondered during the song's

chorus, but as he then mouthed his trademark dare to the balcony to "Come

On!!!" his answer was clear -- The Verve were running from no one; they're

seemingly a band with nothing to fear but fear itself. As Ashcroft next

sallied forth into "This Is Music," a massive bank of lights threw beams

toward the audience from behind him. It was as if he were proclaiming the

very future of music emanated directly from him.

"Here's another song from the album nobody bought," Ashcroft said,

introducing A Northern Soul's "On Your Own." What may have been a

self-deprecating remark from any other band was nothing less than a dig

from the mouth of Ashcroft. Of The Verve's first seven songs, only "The

Drugs Don't Work" (a recent number one hit in England) hailed from their new, widely praised Urban Hymns

album. As they dropped one song after another from earlier releases, the

band in effect challenged the audience: "See what you missed? We're the

real McCoy, and we're damn well gonna prove it to you by holding off on the

new hits you've been reading about," they seemed to be saying.

Although Ashcroft was the focus of attention on-stage, he and

his bandmates channeled themselves toward the greater good of The Verve

totality. A clear benefit of the band's 1995 breakup and subsequent

reformation was the addition of Simon Tong on guitar and keyboards to fully

flesh out the band's awesome sonic assault. Tong, however, did nothing to overshadow the

man he was originally brought in to replace, lead guitarist Nick McCabe.

On songs such as "The Drugs Don't Work" and "Sonnet," McCabe demonstrated

his knack for restraint and tasteful highlights where less confident

guitarists might have showboated.

Throughout the 15-song, 90-minute show, the band alternately held the crowd

in rapt attention (as during "Man Called Sun") or induced it to screaming

("The Drugs Don't Work"). Some of the audience's enthusiasm may have

stemmed from posted notices that the band was recording the concert.

Still, the atmosphere was such that the packed house, well-versed in the

band's catalog, seemed to groove on being clued in to the early days of

what might be the next big thing.

The overwhelmingly favorable reaction should not suggest, however, that the

band's every stroke was marked by success. The Verve proved they could

paint boredom on as grand a scale as excitement with the overblown ending

to "Stormy Clouds." Most surprising was the poor start to "Bitter Sweet

Symphony," the band's current single and the first song of their encore.

Where other songs were breathtaking in their coherence, this key number was

marred both by the canned sound of its synthesized strings and by McCabe's

intrusive guitar effects, which fought for turf in the front of the mix.

Far more indicative of the Verve's promise and their ability to make good

on it were "A New Decade," "Sonnet" and "The Rolling People." These were

the sounds of a band anticipating big success.

And now that we know how The Verve feel about themselves, the challenge for them is whether they can convince Americans to feel the same way. Time will tell. [For an interview with The Verve, please see this month's Addicted To Noise cover story.]

Color="#720418">[Tues., Nov. 4, 1997, 9:00 a.m. PST]