He's got lips like strawberries and cheekbones like mountain ridges. He's just forgotten one thing: songs...
Ever get the feeling that Richard Ashcroft is winging it? Tonight certainly suggests he’s running on an empty tank. Along the back wall of the Olympia is the largest motherfucker of a lighting desk you’ve seen since Pink Floyd. You get the impression that this show was designed for a much a larger venue and planned prior to the release of the lightweight MOR rock of Ashcroft’s debut solo album ‘Alone With Everybody’. So here he is – the man Noel Gallagher calls Captain Rock – cosily playing to the dwindling faithful on his first proper tour. But Richard’s renaissance is running out of steam fast.
To be fair, the kids tonight are still thoroughly enthralled with Mad
Richard. The soul-searching troubadour pose he’s so desperately clinging onto spells SERIOUS, MATURE MUSIC, MAN. And it seems to work. Richard barely cracks a smile all night, because this is music from the soul, so pay attention. None of that plastic pop fluff. This is long hair and acoustic guitars and real love songs. He’s got the rock star charisma down to a T, but in its most hackneyed state. He’s got the big shades and the windswept mane. He’s got lips like strawberries and cheekbones like mountain ridges. He’s just forgotten one thing: songs.
So he relies on a few Verve tunes, because he’s knows ‘The Drugs Don’t Work’ always gets the lighters in the air, which it does tonight. It’s a big group-hug of a moment, even if in the back of your mind you know Richard’s trading off fading glories. Does he really want to play Verve songs? Does he have any other choice? Is this a bad idea considering how paltry ‘A Song For The Lovers’ and ‘C’mon People (We’re Making It Now)’ sound in comparison? These are question that will surely haunt him every night of this tour.
The big finale to a short set is – you guessed it – ‘Bitter Sweet Symphony’, the song that sent Andrew Loog Oldham skipping all the way to the bank. Richard pretty much plays it twice, first as a stripped down acoustic rendition, which is a little embarrassing because you hear all the lyrics, and somewhat pointless because the song was pretty much all about the big heart-swelling string arrangement. And then there’s a boisterous drum TWACK! and a dreadful synthesized string sound kicks off. The crowd go mental.
Richard frowns moodily. It’s all over. An encore would be inappropriate. The lights were great though.