1MM: The Verve @ WaMu Theater/Madison Square Garden

RICHARD ASHCROFT: How does that sonnet go again?

Photos/Text by Andrew Parks

There were very little surprises during the first half of the Verve‘s tw0-night stand at New York’s WaMu Theater. That is if you don’t count the band’s anti-climatic opener: a no-name DJ (literally; he wasn’t credited on the bill or even thanked onstage) that blended old-school funk, soul and rap as if it were Friday night and the feeling’s right. In other words … LAME.

As for the somewhat triumphant return of the little Brit-pop band that couldn’t (drug problems and a debilitating Rolling Stones lawsuit kinda put a damper on the success of Urban Hymns), it was deftly led by frontman Richard Ashcroft. While he may be pushing 40–37 in September, to be exact–the singer sounded as strong as he’s ever been. He also looks healthier than he did the last time we saw him, a bag of sunken cheekbones on the cover of Rolling Stone. Actually, strike that. He doesn’t just look healthy; he looks goddamn great, a sinewy gecko of a man that looks like he reversed the aging caused by years of drugging and drinking. The band was on point tonight, too, knocking out such favorites as “Sonnet,” “The Drugs Don’t Work,” “Lucky Man,” “The Rolling People” and (of course) “Bittersweet Symphony.”

That last one was presented as part of an encore that actually made the band’s new song, “Love Is Pain,” sound much better than some Coachella reports had proposed. The Verve as reinvented for the nü-rave set, the song features a hypnotic, brain-burrowing sample and some serious beats, which the band managed to stretch into a lengthy, over-the-top jam. If they keep writing songs like this, a full-on tour with the Klaxons can’t be far off.