RICHARD ASHCROFT at the Opera House, January 23. Tickets: $27.50 (sold out). Attendance: 850. Rating: NNNN
Rating: Rating: Rating: NNNNN
while it's unfortunate that the Verve fizzled just as they hit their creative peak, Richard Ashcroft should be commended for realizing that fans will always want to hear the back catalogue. Why penalize the public for cherishing brilliant compositions just because they were written in collaboration with someone who's maybe not a friend any more? Maybe Ashcroft could pass that along to Frank Black next time he sees him.
As he did during his industry showcase at Ted's last May, Ashcroft laced both of his two completely sold-out Opera House performances with selections from Urban Hymns, and, as expected, songs such as The Drugs Don't Work and Lucky Man were absolute highlights.
Despite standing rigidly in the middle of the stage, Ashcroft still cut the rock star figure -- credit the shades and cheekbones. There's something about him that's eminently watchable even though he's nobody's idea of a flashy frontman. The same can't be said for the booming effects slathered on his vocals -- flashy indeed -- but hey, whatever works.
Backed by percussionist Craig Wagstaff and horn player Jim Hunt (Primal Scream), Ashcroft's songs received spare but tasteful treatments -- a flourish of flute here, a sax honk there, and occasionally even a trickle of keyboards from wife Kate Radley, who might want to consider bringing some needlepoint onstage to help her pass the time between her infrequent fills.
Murmurs were heard among the balcony set that, as good as Ashcroft was, he was more resonant playing with just acoustic guitar the last time through.
A subjective call, clearly -- in this case more was more. The economical percussive padding, in addition to teasing out the songs, pointed up how unnecessarily overproduced Ashcroft's Alone With Everybody disc is.
Looking around the venue and watching the obvious emotion in people's faces, it was hard to reconcile that that record pretty much tanked on delivery. Yet another reason for plugging the oldies.
Wednesday's performance was the better of the two, owing to a lack of ho-hum music industry folks in the wings and possibly to Ashcroft's own ease at being a few shows into the rescheduled North American tour.
Either way, good enough to see twice for those lucky enough to swing it.