Richard Ashcroft: New York Bowery Ballroom

Up against the Super Bowl, Richard Ashcroft's New York show proves similarly incident-packed...

Apparently there’s something called the Super Bowl on tonight, although you wouldn’t know it standing amongst all these people who are far more interested in the man on stage than any number of beefy blokes in body armour jumping on top of each other.

“Who knows the final score?” Richard Ashcroft is asking. “Does anyone give a shit in this city? No jocks in the house?” There are a couple of cries of “Wigan!” and “Wolverhampton!” from the few consistently obnoxious boys in the crowd, but everyone else is more excited about hearing the man’s next song, a lullaby-like take on ‘You On My Mind In My Sleep’. It’s been a long time since Ashcroft made a public appearance in New York, and the anticipation for this show – the first of two – was only heightened by the fact that it was originally supposed to take place months ago, only to be rescheduled along with the entire tour.

Taking the stage to a tune featuring the name of his baby boy, Sonny, the new, fitter, happier, family-oriented Ashcroft opens his set alone on acoustic guitar, with ‘Brave New World’, before launching into the Verve catalogue, with ‘Sonnet’, which he botches up halfway through.

The precious ‘XXYY’ is also cut short, with a laugh and an announcement that “I completely fucking forgot it”. And in what could be a first,

Ashcroft announces, “This is just the end of the b-side,” breaking into ‘(Could Be A) Country Thing, City Thing, Blues Thing’ somewhere around two-thirds of the way into the song. “We’ll be here all night if I play all those songs,” he says, by way of explanation for the abbreviated bits. Not that anyone would likely mind that. Of course, this being New York City and all, ‘New York’ goes over a storm, especially as Richard adds in the new lyric, “I heard that Giuliani/He been cleaning you all up/But I can still find a 1000 ways/To get myself messed up.”

Still, that’s obviously not the point right now. Richard’s trying something different these days, and something even more different with these low-key shows. It’s easy enough to bear with him, except when he oversteps his bounds. On what is perhaps his most easily-attacked recent composition, ‘On A Beach’, Ashcroft expands his lyrical desert island fantasy by adding a new refrain: “I’ll eat The Beatles for lunch”.

Yeah, it’s an obvious play on words, but at this stage in his career, it’s not one Ashcroft should perhaps be making. Everyone is having a good time tonight, but the man’s status as a solo artist is far from confirmed, especially in the States. He may have been able to draw a packed house while one of America’s biggest sporting events is going on, but he has yet to capture the glory of his own former band, much less the biggest band in history. It might be best not to draw attention to that little detail right now.

Doug Levy