Monday, 10 November 2008

‘PRE-URBAN HYMNS...’

During the years before he learns how to sing ‘Urban Hymns’ and
‘Bitter-Sweet Symphonies’, Verve (no ‘The’) were a cult Indie band
followed by an obsessive coterie of fans...

Gig Review of VERVE & ROLLERSKATE SKINNY
at the ‘Duchess Of York’, Leeds

Pop Frontmen: Charisma and Projection - Discuss, compare and contrast.
‘Mad’ Richard Ashcroft hangs nailed on splinters of light mouthing ‘to me, you’re like the setting sun’, as film crawls and melts over and around him. The bastard miscegenation of bits of Jaggerism and Loony-Tune Julian Cope, leaping, preening, posing in lithe angles and mystic contortions, he’s mesmerising, cutting lurid fluorescent swathes where a sense of spaced absurdity hangs thicker than the dry-ice.
Rollerskate Skinny, by contrast, are stormtroopers of noise, corroding in a black hole between ‘Psycho-Candy’ and “Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun”. There’s sheet-metal feedback and taped distortions of riveting sound with both programmed and organic drums alternating. But the frontman hunches anonymous inside his denim jacket and ordinary hair, only occasionally howling with conviction and presence. When the lights go up he’s lost in Roadies and indistinguishable. What he needs, at least, is dreadlocks and a ripped (and preferably bloodied) vest.
But what Skinny lack in charisma and visuals - that’s where Verve doodle-do what they doodle-do best. There’s a long atmospheric build-up. Slides flash across the backdrop - the clock face reading 7:40 from the singles sleeve, the surface of Mars, whale slaughter in the blood-red Pacific, the lyric-sheet from “Blue”, a calendar page dated 25th Thursday, Earthrise. Then all that momentum of anticipation gets knocked askew, just as the band begin taking up positions, by Richard’s malfunctioning mike. But you still watch, daren’t look away while he’s prowling petulantly and inaudibly and guitarist Nick McCabe improvises shimmering ripples of Fender over the cracks.
“Where did you get your top, Marks & Spencer’s?” asks the audience fashion-notes correspondent. Eyes rolling, Richard tugs on the Blue-and-Red Art Nouveau 1920’s print with a ‘what? this old thing ?’ gesture, missing the main chance - Oxfam, or C&A Clockhouse, to come back limply “can’t remember, I’ll tell you later.” Then, in a moment of inspiration adds, “but the jeans are nicked.” At least, I think that’s what he said.
Verve have been around too long to be new. But this time it’s a war of total assault. “She’s A Superstar” and “Slide” seem to be not altogether subject to gravity at all, but instead radiate light. This is sound that walks on water. “Gravity Grave” still works on digital timing, while the current Indie-charting single “Blue” is the shortest sharpest powerpop shock tonight. Elsewhere - particularly the album title track “There’s A Storm In Heaven”, there are layers of levels and peaks where glimpses of tortured mock-visionary lyrics submerge and drown, “you walk by like some kind of angel,/ yeah, I guess that explains it...”
Verve was the elite 1960’s record label that brought us Tim Hardin. Verve is a dictionary word that means ‘enthusiasm, energy, vigour, in artistic or literary work’. I guess that explains it.
BY ANDREW DARLINGTON

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