The last time Richard Ashcroft played New York City he was back with his original band The Verve in 2008. The band returned to the scene after nearly a decade absence and sold out two nights at the Theater at Madison Square Garden, for those in attendance, it was a memorable and historic night as they would be the final times (again) that The Verve would play New York City or North America for that matter, after the release of their anticipated album Forth later that year, they broke up soon after…again.
Now Ashcroft, who lamented himself as a solo artist in the early millennium after The Verve famously split in 1998 (again), returned with his new band, The United Nations of Sound to Bowery Ballroom. The band, which is a funk band has given the lanky singer a new energy and zest, though he will always be known and famous for his role in Britpop, he is now crafting his own style of hip-hop influence rock that we here call Brithop. The iconic singer in the iconic venue seemed much more at ease than the last time New York saw him. He showed that he had nothing to prove but just pure enjoyment. Opening with his latest single, “Are You Ready?” Ashcroft came on stage in his parka and began dancing up a storm. His band, whose tight rhythm section backed his sound and style, Ashcroft is doing a few cities in the US to support the US release of his latest record, RPA and the United Nations of Sound, which was produced by Jay-Z and Kanye West producer No ID. The album which has received less than stellar reviews around the globe, does not faze Ashcroft, he is doing what he loves. I, a major Ashcroft fan, do not care for the new album either, but I must say that live the songs sound much more lush and pulsating, enough to enjoy in a room with a few 500 some-odd fans. After three songs, the parka came off and Ashcroft picked up his acoustic to perform The Verve single “Lucky Man.” As the crowd went nuts, it is just a testament to Ashcroft’s career; he is indeed a lucky man being able to do this and sell out when he rarely tours. After nearly an hour on stage, he focused more on the new material while tossing in other solo gems like “Music is Power,” but then reached a point where he was losing touch with the audience three quarters into the set as he would have the band jam out and he would flail on stage like Michael Stipe. After the main set finished, Richard and the band walked off. The true highlight of the night was for the singers encore, taking the stage by himself with an acoustic guitar performing stripped down versions of “Human Condition,” “Sonnet,” “On a Beach,” and “Why Not Nothing.” After the amazing solo acoustic segment, you realize, this is what he should do, it would be brilliant to see a full set of stripped songs of his like this. As if the encore could not get any better, he dedicated a rare performance of “Lonely Soul,” to DJ Shadow, David Axelrod and UNKLE, it was truly a perfect way to end the night but he was not done, the band would come out again and they would end off doing new cuts. In many ways it is a bittersweet symphony after all of Richard Ashcroft, which he has become a voice for a generation and still has a legion of fans but nothing on Earth could ever top his Verve return in 2008.
Opening the show were the perfect last minute addition, slick New York City rockers The Postelles. The Postelles, who have become one of our favorite’s here at Officially A Yuppie, took the stage at Bowery Ballroom as openers, which may have been a bit odd, since last summer they were headliners. Nevertheless, they still performed their signature solid and efficient polished rock and soul meets doo-wop sound. The crowd for the show was much older and clearly many had never heard of the band before but soon became instant fans, as most usually do, by the end of their 40 minute set. The Postelles are such a refined band, as we reported they had issues with their former label, EMI but have found a great home at +1 Records, who will be releasing their long awaited debut this spring. Whether they are headlining Bowery or opening for an icon, they still find a way to steal the audience’s attention and hearts. Where ever they may play they are a band to see and absorb.