San Diego Radio Sucks Quite A Bit

Friday, April 18, 2008

Six Days 'til Coachella - Verve

When the subject of this band comes up, my best friends will tell you not to get involved. Don't discuss this band with him, they warn, you'll see the worst of him.

Let me tell you my tale.

Before they were sued (or whatever) by Verve records, "The Verve" was called Verve. When I first heard of them, I was going to Michigan State University, and I knew several people who worked in the local record store. These guys were the same crew that turned me onto Lush, My Bloody Valentine, Spiritualized, all the bands I've carried in my heart every day since the early 1990s.

Most people don't know that before Urban Hymns, which was total shit compared to everything else they've done, there was A Northern Soul, which was a masterpiece compared to Northern Hymns. Before that was the amazing debut album A Storm In Heaven.

I was introduced to the group when their first three singles came out, All In the Mind, She's A Superstar, and Gravity Grave.

All In the Mind was a bit of a jam for a shoegaze band, which they were back then. It was a great song, complete with driving yet psychedelic guitars and lyrics that were forceful without being angry. But the real surprise was one of the b-sides, A Man Called Sun. Listening to this song was liketaking mescaline in the desert, and even now, it conjures up the feeling of wind and sand blowing through your soul while McCabe's guitar and Ashcroft's lyrics drift through your head.

She's A Superstar is one of those power ballads that alternately soars and explodes. It's almost like Mogwai on quaaludes, a dream for underwater headbanging. Feel, the other track on the single, is even more subdued, and doesn't come close to anything like a rolling boil. It's a great, slow song, best saved for a slow dance with someone at the end of the night after a few bottles of good wine, or a few bowls.

Gravity Grave was the last single the band released before A Storm In Heaven, which was another head shaker. Not quite as rocking as All In the Mind, though more driving in a groove dimension. The b-sides on this weren't quite as strong as the others, including an even more slowed down live version of A Man Called Sun.

When A Storm In Heaven was released, we couldn't believe it. It was at least as good as the singles, and was in line with the sonic flavor Verve had been cultivating throughout the first singles. Somehow, they played Detroit on a Thursday and Grand Rapids on a Sunday, so I knew it was possible to see them twice in four days. I didn't have a car at the time, but drummed up some interest with my roommate Smokey and two other friends, and we took the trip to St. Andrews' Hall. An amazing show.

That Sunday, I was still basking in the afterglow of the show, when another roommate Beth asked me why I wasn't at the show. I told her I didn't have a ride. She grabbed me and two different people and we hopped in her car and headed to the show at The Reptile House in GR.

I remember Acetone opened up, they had this song that blatantly ripped off a riff from Issac Hayes. When Verve took the stage, someone passed Ashcroft a joint. He stepped up to the mic and announced, "Look what someone gave me. Well, we can all share." He hit it, passed it to the band, then passed it back into the audience.

The Reptile House only held about 150-200 people, and makes The Casbah look like an arena. It was one of those shows I'll always remember.

When I saw the group again a few years later at The Palace in Hollywood (now known as Avalon), my friend Jeff and I were all the way up in the balcony. The band had gained quite a bit of notice since we'd seen them back on the first US tour. Something just fell flat with that album and with that show.

I won't go on about how I thought Bittersweet Symphony was one of the worst turns for the band's career ever, or how I pretty much swore them off after that, or what a prick I think Ashcroft is.

Last year, they released The Thaw Session through NME, a UK magazine on par with Rolling Stone here in the states. I downloaded it, and was delighted to hear that it sounded like the old stuff. Not the singles, but sort of like lost recordings between the first and second albums.

I'm actually open to seeing The Verve at Coachella. I know they're going to do some stuff I absolutely abhor, but I have high hopes that they're also going to play some of the amazing songs that I have inside of me despite the sell-out of UH.

I guess the sweet irony is that they never made a dime off of Bittersweet Symphony. Come on, if you're going to steal a song, at least make it good.


Bill said...

The Gravity Grave ep, in four tracks, condenses everything that was great about Verve around the time of A Storm In Heaven. Simon Jones' bass throb which opens the title track, turns into a sensual pulse as the song opens up. Combined with flute on the top of the track, this is one of the great psychedelic moments of the 90's. The Thaw Session inspires high hopes for a great set at Coachella and future beyond. Bill

Unknown said...

Matthew, I agree that Verve's early stuff is the best, with Man Called Sun maybe the "high" water mark. However, I think you should skip yr way through UH again, it's not perhaps as bad as you think. The Rolling People and Come On could have been on ANS, and are great rocking songs; Catching a Butterfly is also sweet, kinda early sounding, and Neon Wilderness is perfect city dread. The b-sides from the UH era also yield some gems such as Echo Bass and Three Steps. Just saying that they had some good ideas after reforming; just wait until the inevitable box set, where the 25 minute jams from the "rock" part of the UH sessions, (as opposed to the Richie solo sessions) will hopefully emerge. It's the album that got me into them, then I looked back at what I had missed, which was plenty. Hope it was a good show. marc