Exclusive: The first solo review anywhere in the world...
“This is the first for me since Slane Castle, which was for 80,000 people,” says [a]Richard Ashcroft[/a] just before completing his brief 30-minute stand at Toronto’s Ted’s Wrecking Yard, the first stage he’s stood upon since the Verve‘s last hurrah in August of ’98. “It’s good. It’s better.”
Most of us would view a 79,800-person drop-off in attendance as a major cause for alarm, but for Ashcroft, this solo acoustic showcase for an industry-only crowd of 200 is the perfect reintroduction. Showing no signs of stress from his hectic Toronto stop – his morning flight from New York was delayed over four hours, forcing him to cram a full day’s worth of interviews into three hours – Ashcroft offers a six-song reminder that, behind all the orchestral grandeur and multi-textured majesty of his recorded output lies the soul of a classic-pop songwriter.
With the normally grungey confines of Ted’s Wrecking Yard decorated in elegant white drapes – which served as projection screens for the artwork gracing his upcoming solo debut, ‘Alone With Everybody’ – Ashcroft takes the stage looking like he just walked out of the ‘Bitter Sweet Symphony’ video, though augmented with shades, a sparkling diamond crucifix and sandals (which seemed quite appropriate given the folky vibe). With candles, amps and two guitars forming a semi-circle behind him, he begins with ‘A Song For The Lovers’, which despite being robbed of its soaring symphonic sweep, loses not an ounce of passion in the translation.
From there, it’s a gloriously gritty run through ‘Bitter Sweet Symphony’, which conjures so much Neil Youngian ragged glory that his 12-string shorts out during the second verse. No worries – while his tech fumbles about his feet, our Richard freestyles: “I move my feet/ and won’t skip a beat/ I am free again”. The guitar gets sorted for the chorus, but the ecstatic crowd response drowns it out.
Clearly touched, he dedicates ‘You On My Mind In My Dreams’ (call it ‘Luckier Man’) to new son Sonny and wife Kate (who’s in attendance); straps on the electric for the shimmering psychedelic ballad ‘On A Beach’ before giving up after two verses; goes six-string acoustic for the joyous gospel hootenanny ‘Money To Burn’; and bids adieu with a 12-string rendering of the Al Green-goes-Britpop crooner ‘Get My Beat’. With the notoriously blabbermouthed Toronto music-biz crowd seduced into rapturous silence, Ashcroft leaves no doubt that they got it.