There was something remarkably calming watching RICHARD ASHCROFT own the stage last night at the Villa Victoria Center For The Arts. The enigmatic and sometimes volatile British frontman first broke away from the weighty arena-standards of the Verve with 2000’s Alone With Everybody, and that sentiment perhaps best sums up last night’s engaging performance from one of Britpop’s more mercurial icons and poignant voices.
Ashcroft was certainly alone up there on the remodeled church’s towering stage, but the campfire vibe and intimacy provided by the Villa, his acoustic guitar, and a seasoned crowd of Verve supporters, made the show feel like some sort of exclusive party for those who’ve stuck with Mad Richard during a somewhat turbulent solo career.
As if a testament to the uneven reception to his post-Alone solo work, including the recent United Nations of Sound, Ashcroft delivered a set full of Verve classic, chatting playfully with the crowd and reminding it that great music has, in fact been made in the past 15 years (by him, of course). Visually appearing like he just stepped out of 1999, he also wondered aloud why no one ever covers his material. Clearly, he hasn’t been inside the bedrooms of fans, who’s memorization of every lyric and melody implies his best work is covered, behind closed door, pretty much daily.
Opening his hour-plus set with Verve standouts “History,” “Sonnet” and “Space & Time,” Ashcroft’s Boston performance was a love-letter to his fans. The term “emo” has taken a specific definition over the past 15 years, but there’s nothing more emo than a gang of dudes -- in this case, Endless Wave’s Andre Obin, the Phoenix’s Luke O’Neil and Michael Christopher, WFNX’s Paul Driscoll, and Irish Fucking Leo -- all perched up in the balcony, bro-ing the fuck out, arm-in-arm chanting lyrics like Scottish football pub-crawl hooligans and then getting damn-near teary eyed during Urban Hymns’ “The Drugs Don’t Work” and “Weeping Willow.” This was clearly some emotional shit, and even the button-down Abercrombie white-hat yeah-dudes in the crowd -- always a weird subculture of Verve fans, perhaps a result of “Lucky Man” creeping into 1999 Kevin Costner baseball flick “For The Love Of The Game” -- were equally enchanted by Ashcroft’s martyr-like presence on stage.
Mad Richard made some fun small talk, like expressing his enjoyment of being on stage alone being able to do and play what he wanted, as well as loosely addressing the “Bittersweet Symphony” lawsuit with the Stones that hangs over the Verve’s legacy. He rambled off something to the effect of, when all the elements of a song are stripped away, ownership means very little (or something like that).
Of course, “Symphony” was the closer, but by then it didn’t matter. Every fan-boy and fan-girl in the crowd, pretty much the entire room, got quite the surprise show. Perhaps Ashcroft truly is at his best, and most earnest, when he’s singing those Verve lullabies to those who based their life around them many years ago. If he comes back to America, as he promised late last night, hopefully the backing band gets caught in customs. All this man needs is his guitar, his voice, and the Verve’s still stunning ‘90s catalogue.
And if you made it this far, here's a free egg -- a shaky Phlipcam video of "On Your Own" (great sound, though) with a cameo by O'Neil and Obin and some fan boy singing caught towards the end. Yeah, my bad.