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Given this breakthrough, a tour of the States would have seemed like a natural next step. But instead of hopping on the first Concorde bound for America as soon as the single charted, the group decided not to make a swing through the hinterlands until the second half of summer. This delay proved fatal: While Urban Hymns offerings other than "Bitter Sweet Symphony" got airplay, none of them came close to matching their predecessor's huge popularity. Hence, sales for the band's concerts were slow--so slow that promoters in many parts of the country were forced to move the shows to smaller venues. (The Verve's Denver-area appearance was originally slated to take place at Red Rocks.) Faced with the prospect of diminishing returns, the tour's opening act, Massive Attack, decided to abandon ship in order to line up headlining dates of its own; the Massive ones will hit the Ogden Theatre on September 22. To further compound problems, Verve guitarist Nick McCabe, whose return to the group for Urban Hymns after years spent out of the fold had much to do with the disc's quality, chose not to join his mates on the road. Disaster seemed imminent.

With these troubles as a backdrop, the Verve limped into a far-from-full Mammoth Gardens with something to prove--but with seemingly little interest in doing so. The concert was slated to begin at 8 p.m. but didn't get under way until nearly ninety minutes later; during the interim, underlings played music and flashed photos of the Ververs on two screens placed behind the instruments on stage. The slide show provided attendees with the evening's best view of the supporting musicians: When the McCabe-less band finally appeared (supplemented by a pedal-steel player and a guest percussionist), the spotlight immediately went to Ashcroft, and it seldom left him for the rest of the night. Ashcroft certainly acted the part of the star, posing like a male model heavily into heroin chic, but his failure to interact with his fellow musicians made him come across as narcissistic. Worse, the absence of McCabe left the music feeling far less intriguing and complex than it did on Hymns. "Sonnet" and others came off as nicely melodic, but they were so similar in mood, tempo and structure that the result was torpor. I yawned a few seconds into "Lucky Man," then found myself practically unable to stop for the next ten minutes. Picking up a corresponding vibe from the throng, Ashcroft introduced "One Day" by mumbling, "Maybe you'd rather I say 'Bitter Sweet Symphony.'" When the title didn't receive the tumultuous ovation he seemed to be expecting, he asked, "Or does anyone give a fuck?"

The situation improved with "Come On," the first number in which Ashcroft and his helpers picked up the pace and played off one another. But this juicy psychedelic excursion turned out to be not the beginning of something fresher but an excuse for the performers to leave after only an hour of music. Moments later, Ashcroft came back alone for a couple of solo acoustic ditties, after which he announced, "It's blow-the-fucking-roof-off time. This is something you'll tell your grandkids about." Wrong: The concluding rendition of "Symphony" was seriously off-kilter--a poignant elegy transformed into a Stone Roses-type celebration. As Ashcroft waved his fist and did the Jagger rooster strut in a room that was at least one-third empty, I couldn't help but feel that he'd waited a little too long for this moment. I wondered: Years from now, will he be sitting in his dingy little flat musing about how his life might have turned out had he started that U.S. tour six months earlier?

In the July 9 issue of this column, I contrasted the disappearance of the Market Street Lounge and Seven South's romance with dance music with Grandma's Area 39, which had recently made a renewed commitment to featuring original rock. But financial realities have forced Wendy Wikstrand, who took over Area 39 (at 3900 Pecos Street) in April, to make changes as well. An August 15 bash featuring Sick, Insane Core Productions, Corruption, Quiet Room and others was the venue's rock swan song. A new manager has already been hired with an eye toward reopening on August 28 as what Wikstrand describes as "a Mexican-music bar. He'll book more salsa and ethnic stuff, and hopefully I'll be able to kick back and make some money for once."

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts