Urban hymns ignite feverish devotion

Richard Ashcroft has won the Britpop wars hands down, but it could turn out to be a shallow victory

Richard Ashcroft has won the Britpop wars hands down, but it could turn out to be a shallow victory. The Verve are now the biggest band in Britain, and their album, Urban Hymns, has easily outperformed Oasis's Be Here Now and embedded itself deeper into the public consciousness. The Verve are this year's model, and until another traditional, back-to-basics rock combo comes along to take their place, the Wigan band's pop supremacy is secured for the time being.

The problem with The Verve in concert, however, is their reliability: their brand of sonic salvation is in danger of becoming cosy and comfortable, like Van Morrison's healing-by-rote roadshow. You can trust Mad Richard to take you to another place and time, and you can take for granted that the musicians in the band are going to bring you higher. Unlike Oasis, whose performances can be patchy and erratic, The Verve always deliver that bitter-sweet redemption, and Ashcroft is always ready to take it to the next level. It's as predictable as religion, only this time it comes with a written guarantee that you will indeed be saved.

Last night was the first of two sold-out shows at The Point; most of the young fans were getting their first taste of the live Verve since the band broke big and, judging by the fervour and excitement in the air, they were savouring every drop. As the disco intro of Also Sprach Zarathustra faded into the ether, The Verve took the stage and stated their case with This Is Music, winning the battle with the first punch. Space And Time, Catching The Butterfly and Sonnet soothed the fevered crowd, then fired them up with rock 'n' roll fervour once again.

The Verve's music is all about undulating rhythms and shimmering soundscapes, and the band skilfully navigated the rise and fall of each sonic wave, managing to sound elusively ethereal. The heady rush of The Rolling People was magnified by a rolling and tumbling lightshow - with two round screens towering over a rainbow of lights, it looked like an early Pink Floyd gig in full psychedelic orbit. The barefoot, gangly frame of Ashcroft added the heart and soul, moving and stalking in time with the pulsating rhythm.


The Drugs Don't Work had the crowd singing along merrily to its downbeat melody, and Lucky Man dealt a celebratory hand. Life's An Ocean and Velvet Morning flowed smoothly into Bitter Sweet Symphony, a climax to challenge even Wonderwall for sheer anthemic glory. As Ashcroft held the world aloft on the song's extended coda, however, there was a distinct feeling that it may not be too long before it falls from his grasp again.

Kevin Courtney

Kevin Courtney

Kevin Courtney is an Irish Times journalist