His hair is shaved, his features ascetically angular, and his eyes concealed behind dark shades. Standing center stage with hands clasped, Richard Ashcroft‘s presence feels nothing short of shamanic. The crowd, clamoring in anticipation just moments before, falls into a reverential silence.
Twenty years have elapsed since The Verve’s “Bitter Sweet Symphony” swept the world. For the thousands who packed both levels of Terminal 5 in New York City, the clock was rewound that night.
In between The Verve‘s hiatuses and after the band’s final breakup in 2009, Ashcroft has released five solo albums, including 2016’s These People. He opened the set with “Out of My Body,” the lead track off the album. Throughout the night, Ashcroft’s intense charisma was in full force as he strode back and forth, sometimes kneeling at the edge of the stage, hunched over the mic in impassioned delivery as fans reached over the barricade, hoping to make contact.
The electrifying evening almost wasn’t. Earlier that day, a water main break shut down the block and the venue delayed doors by nearly forty-five minutes. Anthony D’Amato, the Brooklyn-based rising star whose music was profiled in Rolling Stone as “folk raised on New Jersey grit,” joked during his opening set that he had sabotaged the water system to build anticipation for the evening.
D’Amato’s music offered a one-two punch of a Bright Eyes-esque folk rock freshness (Conor Oberst contributed vocals to the album) and politically-charged lyrics, including the oblique yet umistakable reference as he dedicated “If You’re Gonna Build A Wall” simply and pointedly, to “Dear Leader.”
Ashcroft carried along that defiant spirit in the closing number of the night. As the familiar opening notes to “Bitter Sweet Symphony” filled the club, he yelled out: “This one is for John Lennon — this one is for Malcolm X — for Chelsea Manning.”
“I was thinking is this it — is this the last time I’ll play the U.S.?” Ashcroft queried at one point. With that context, his performance of “New York” took on added significance.
Whatever is in store, it’s plain that The Verve holds a special place in our collective music consciousness. “Thank you so much, forever.” That’s a phrase Ashcroft repeated at several points. The sentiment was shared by the thousands who sang along, all night long.
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