Gig Review: Richard Ashcroft, Bowery Ballroom, NYC 3/23/2011

Ah, The Verve. Just the band name alone conjures up memories of my times in university out in Seattle. I still remember discovering them, just as many of us Americans did with the simplistic genius of the now timeless video for Bittersweet Symphony. At that time, the band had already developed a massive following in the UK, and had a small foothold in the US, but that one made them a name. A Buzz Clip. I had the good fortune of seeing them play the wonderful ShowBox in Seattle that year, and it’s still a gig that’s etched into my memory and The Verve are a favorite of mine.

Needless to say, the moment I heard that former frontman for The Verve, Richard Ashcroft, was doing a solo gig at the wonderful Bowery Ballroom in NYC, I jumped on tickets the moment they went onsale. While I am not familiar with his solo work, a few of my friends who also came to the show were, and told me that his solo output was strong and very worthwhile. I can concur 100% on that after tonight.

The Postelles

The opening act for this evening’s festivities was NYC-based garage rock act, The Postelles. The best way to describe The Postelles ‘ music is very retro indie rock. They were reminiscent of acts like early Kings of Leon with Strokes-y guitars, which shouldn’t be a surprise as The Strokes’ own, Albert Hammond Jr., served as a producer on their upcoming Astralwerks debut. There were also elements of 60s American rock like Creedence Clearwater Revival. I was very impressed with frontman Daniel Balk, who possesses a growly, melodic vocal that is quite powerful and engaging.  One thing I was not keen on was when lead guitarist David Dargahi would add his vocals into the fray. While I cannot say Dargahi has a bad singing voice, he mostly sings in his upper register and while not quite falsetto, has a bit of an odd timbre. The Postelles played a very decent set that went by very fast and were a fitting opening act. I can’t say that I would go out of my way for them again, but I will definitely be giving their debut a listen and hope to see them improve. They were in jovial spirits and that attitude is always appreciated.

After about a 45 minute wait for the headliner, one of the best known names in the NYC rock scene and former MTV luminary, Matt Pinfield, came out to inform us that Ashcroft had an amazing set planned for us tonight and conveyed to us how much Ashcroft loved New York.  I have to admit it was pretty cool seeing Pinfield out there as I’ve always liked the guy, relatively speaking. This was clearly a time buying measure as the wait between opener and headliner was definitely longer than normal.

At long last, Richard Ashcroft took the stage wearing a parka, jeans, and a pair of brand new white sneakers. The band accompanying Ashcroft on this night was the same band that is backing him on his latest solo album “RPA & The United Nations of Sound“. This album is a definite departure for Ashcroft as sonically it blends various genres from R&B,  rock, funk, and even elements of hip-hop. I gave the record a cursory listen prior to the show and I cannot say it moved me in any particular way. However, it was a lot of fun in a live setting.

Richard Ashcroft

One of the most impressive thing about tonight’s set was this group of musicians backing the frontman. The United Nations of Sound can best be described as a multi-ethnic, very well versed, group of professional musicians. Most notably, guitarist Steve Wyreman, who’s wild upswept dreadlocks and Sid Vicious t-shirt screamed rock star, and whose playing skill was among some of the best live guitar work I’ve seen this year. Wyreman was absolutely killing it on most of the new album’s material and even older classic material like “Lucky Man” and “Lonely Soul” off of UNKLE’s Psycence Fiction, which was dedicated to DJ Shadow. Rounding out the band was bassist, Dwayne “DW” Wright, whose six string bass was thumping all night, along with an excellent hard-hitting drummer, Qyu Jackson, and keyboards/synths player, Rico Petrillo.  As previously mentioned, I wasn’t too enthusiastic with the studio recording, but these guys definitely knew how to play to audience and were rock solid through the entire set.

Richard Ashcroft

I had read some setlists of some shows that Ashcroft had played last year in the UK prior to tonight’s gig in an effort to get an idea of what to expect. One of the expectations was an acoustic set which I am happy to mention was performed during this gig. To hear Richard Ashcroft perform my favorite song of his and his old band, “Sonnet“, solo and acoustic, was easily my favorite point of the night. I am admittedly a complete sucker for acoustic shows and to hear this song especially and this fantastic vocalist on this night was definitely a treat.

The set was over in a flash and while it being heavy on the album he’s here to promote, I can’t say that I am disappointed. Sure, I would’ve liked to have gotten some more songs from his years in The Verve and definitely some more acoustic songs, but the show was well presented and most importantly, extremely well performed. Any musician in the audience can learn something about showmanship from Richard Ashcroft and any fan of rock music would’ve appreciated the performance on this night.

The Postelles 6/10

Richard Ashcroft 9/10

Matt Pinfield mentioned to check out an acoustic set Richard recently performed for WRXP in New York. Click here to watch. Its a wonderful little set. There are also more photos via my Flickr.

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