BITTERSWEET EPIPHANY

STEVE SUTHERLAND, he's a believer, thanks to THE VERVE's fire and brimstone Glasgow tour opener.

THE VERVE

Glasgow Barrowlands

There’s no support. It’s as if they’re saying, “There couldn’t be. The Verve stand alone”. And that’s how it is. The end of year pop polls have The Verve neck and neck with Radiohead for all the major honours which has led some pundits to throw the two together under the yoke of some new, deep miserablist movement. But only a dickhead would fail to discern the difference between Radiohead’s clinical depression and The Verve’s sweeping personal optimism. Thom’s deep in his own paranoid crisis, Richard’s way out the other side and flying. One’s voyeurism, the other’s celebration. The Verve stand alone.

And so it is, as if to emphasise the point, that this tour has no title either. The ads just say, The Verve and list the dates. Just the necessary. The tour sold out weeks ago. There is no fuss. No bother. No big intro. Just numbers on a screen counting down, then Richard lopes on, removes his parka, takes off his shoes, silently screams and shakes his fist at the crowd. There is no giant telephone box. No Rolls-Royce drum riser. Just The Verve and their calamitous beauty, getting down to business. The band in the shadows, Richard up front. Not a performance as much as an experience.

Richard doesn’t say much tonight, doesn’t want to break the spell. Between songs he stalks the stage, impatient with the applause which seems a curiously inappropriate response, like waking from a dream and cheering the hallucinations even as they evaporate. When The Verve get it right – and they do tonight – the crowd and band alike are not so much playing and witnessing these songs as living through them, they touch us all so deeply. What this Verve have got going for them that they didn’t have before they went away is mass communion. They had the commitment before, had the vision, had the intensity, had it all except the songs. So before, to see Richard so totally lost in the noise of his own creating, so far under the influence of The Verve’s chemistry was a bit unnerving. Sometimes you felt like a tourist in bedlam, gawping at the freakshow.

That’s why the timing of this tour’s so crucial. ‘Urban Hymns’ has had its time to bed inside our consciousness. We know it off by heart and are ready now to participate in a couple of hours of being The Verve. Now, with ‘The Drugs Don’t Work’ and ‘Bitter Sweet Symphony’ and ‘Sonnet’ and ‘The Rolling People’ and all these landmark anthems from the ‘Urban Hymns’ LP, we too have drained the elixir, we too are Richard, eyes closed, heads thrown back, throat muscles taut with the sweet pain of singing. These are our songs too and we have each personally interpreted their shadowy lyricism, have taken each line about cats in bags and butterfly chasing and have impregnated them with our own memories.

I know cynics who point out that Richard’s words are woolly, sentimental mystical hippy bollocks largely ripped off from Mr ‘Jerusalem’ himself, William Blake. And it’s true that cold print on paper does Richard no favours. But these people don’t understand the power of music. And that is most certainly what this is. Music. Music with the ability to move you, to take all your hopes and fears and fuse them in a mass thanksgiving. It’s coming alive. It’s being all you can be, giving it your all, as Richard’s mate Noel said, right here, right now. This Glasgow crowd is so different to the last time we saw The Verve, their pearls cast before the laddish swine at Earls Court, geezers showing off their bumcracks and mooing at the stage. This crowd are not here to collect memories and be impressed. This crowd are here to become part of The Verve, to fuse into the intensity of it all.

That’s why, although he says very little tonight, Richard says, “This is music.” That may seem a daft thing to say. Of course it’s fucking music, they’re a band aren’t they? But, ridiculously enough, it’s a statement that needs to be made and in identifying that, Richard sets naked before us the sole simple reason why The Verve exist. No bollocks agenda, no plans for world domination, no boasts about being the biggest, just a basic appreciation of what makes music work. Richard has often quoted Gram Parsons’ idea of Cosmic American music, that you can take all the best elements of every type of music that there’s ever been and trash the boundaries, torch the styles and mainline for the emotional connection.

That’s what The Verve achieve tonight. Uniquely this is a set without highlights. There are no stand-out songs which lift you above the rest, no remarkable moments. Because it’s all remarkable. From the moment the band crash into their stride with ‘New Decade’, genius guitarist Nick McCabe is melded into the Salisbury/Tong/Jones vast rhythmic rumble. It’s not a case of showmanship, it’s simply not showbusiness. It’s a whole seething mass of contradictions – the mythologisation of survival against all the odds that created gospel and country and soul jackhammered into a new psychedelia. It’s no coincidence to the new might of this music that The Verve split up and then came back again. Their history directly mirrors the Romantic content of the songs; how you can’t appreciate the glory of being alive until you have faced the sobering reality of the opposite and found the personal strength to overcome it.

Richard is using what happened to The Verve as a metaphor for our whole generation. Lost without any idea what to believe in, he offers us the best he can; the shared experience that we are all fuck-ups and it’s ok. By the time the band are cranking up into ‘Come On’ at the very end, Richard has no need to exhort us to join them, no need to hector us into sharing his reverie. We are right up there with him, howling at the moon. It’s a high place to be. Ain’t never coming down.

Steve Sutherland