Tuesday, Nov. 11. Phoenix Concert Theatre, 410 Sherbourne. Sold out.
If Q magazine is to be believed, The Verve are The World's Most Dangerous Band. That's high rock 'n' roll praise for a band who, until the recent success of "Bitter Sweet Symphony," was important only to the most Brit-tastic of music fans. What happened and why should anyone care?
Prior to Urban Hymns, The Verve released 1993's A Storm In Heaven and 1995's A Northern Soul. These precursors to Urban Hymns' psychedelic balladeering hinted at what would come, but followed a meandering path, as the band found its focus. But it so happened that after the tour in support of A Northern Soul, singer Richard Ashcroft made a few phone calls and dissolved the band. Guitar player Nick McCabe had reached dizzying lows of depression as a result of the pressures of touring; in turn, Ashcroft -- who has himself earned the nickname Mad Richard -- decided that McCabe was more of a nuisance than a benefit to the band. Rather than simply fire McCabe, Ashcroft said The Verve had lost its vigor.
According to a cover story in The Face last summer, "The Verve now privately admit that their not-very-convincing split was really just a way to get rid of (Nick McCabe) their guitarist." Ashcroft, bass player Simon Jones, drummer Peter Salisbury and newly recruited guitar guy Simon Tong were playing together less than a month after the alleged split. However, Jones -- The Verve's current mouthpiece, since Ashcroft isn't playing with the press this time around -- doesn't acknowledge any of this, or the fact that Tong came to be a part of the group prior to McCabe's eventual return.
Says Jones in a phone interview from New York, "We've always talked about making the band grow and bringing in different members because there are so many elements on the records and we wanna get that power across live. It's so great that we had a friend who could play the guitar, play keyboards, blah, blah, blah. The time was right for him to come, d'y'know what I mean?"
It was fortunate and it makes for a pleasant story, but what about Nick?
"Basically we, y'know, it was just a case of relationship breakdown for a bit. We were all so close anyway, that's what made it possible for Richard to ring him up and say, 'Yeah, I'm all right now. Everything's all right. Let's give it another go,' d'y'know what I mean? Because we were friends, it's easy, y'know. I don't know... something with this band... things happen. That's the way we feel. We don't know where it comes from, this music. No big deal at all really."
That's a far cry from McCabe telling The Face, "He (Ashcroft) had to eat shit. I told him, 'I ought to tell you to fuck off but I'm glad to hear from you. They asked me back, so they can't complain. I get to do what the fuck I want now."
If Jones is to be believed, The Verve are like archetypal star-crossed lovers connected by some sort of divine intervention. Urban Hymns certainly sounds like music made by a band with confidence to spare; it's far cheerier than past efforts and there's no denying the catchiness of "Bitter Sweet Symphony." (The song's title has became ironic after the news that The Verve had to give 100 per cent of the song's royalties to infamous Stones/Beatles manager Allen Klein for sampling The Andrew Loog Oldham Orchestra's version of The Rolling Stones' "The Last Time" without permission.)
"It's simple," he says "When we play live, we'll be jamming -- we can play together. We're not musos but we have got an instinctive way of playing music together. The chemistry is massive. We know having broken up and gone through all that... the 18 months in the wilderness gave us some perspective on how important music was to all of us, y'know, we all had to come to terms with The Verve split-up. None of us could come to terms with it. That's why we got back together, because we knew how important it was."