Haigh Hall, Wigan, England – May 24th, 1998
Disc One: This is Music; Space & Time; Catching the Butterfly; Sonnet; The Rolling People; Neon Wilderness; The Drugs Don’t Work; Lucky Man
Disc Two: Life’s an Ocean; Velvet Morning; Bitter Sweet Symphony; One Day; History; Come On
The Verve’s 1997 release, Urban Hymns, contains one of the catchiest and ubiquitous pop songs from the 1990’s, “Bitter Sweet Symphony.” The song’s far-reaching impact has been used in commercials, as backdrop in film, and was nominated for a 1999 Grammy Award. Despite their amazing success and distinct talents, The Verve was a short-lived group that disbanded in April, 1999. That was unfortunate, given their mini-reunion in 2007-2008 and release of the superb Forth.
Homecoming is a two disc title sourced from an apparent radio broadcast of The Verve’s concert in front of 33,000 adoring fans in their hometown of Wigan, England. The recording is impeccable, with depth, balance and ambiance found on the best of professional tapes.
For fans of The Verve, this is an indispensable release, although there is no information anywhere on the inserts or discs about the label that produced this beauty. This release is also valuable because of the dearth of live material available from this band.
The concert took place at the height of the group’s popularity and success, and this is clear from the first seconds on disc one. Richard Ashcroft exclaims to the audience that “this is music!”, the opening song of the show, at which point Peter Salisbury began swishing his hi-hats to set the table for Simon Jones to lay down one of his signature bass patterns over which Nick McCabe layered his soaring guitar leads.
This was a rocker, Verve style, with their original swirling, hypnotic sounds escalating at about 2:00 into the song. Ashcroft rode the sound waves with all following along to the end of the tune. A super start to the show, no doubt.
After some equipment adjustments, “Space & Time” continued the excellent performance to give the listener evidence that this concert recording is going to be one of those experiences that will be revisited over and over again. McCabe and Ashcroft were shining in the song, with its simultaneous dreamy and heavy feel captured beautifully in the recording.
Afterward, Ashcroft belted out an impromptu “I wanna thank you, for letting me, be myself, again” lyric from “Catching the Butterfly,” before exhorting the audience to “come on now!!” – which they did. “Catching the Butterfly” followed in spectacular fashion for more than six minutes. Deep, rumbling taurus bass pedals accented the chorus about catching the butterfly in a dream. This is ultimate Verve, with audience members’ excited cheering caught afterward. “Sonnet” was performed next, which temporarily slowed the tempo.
A radio broadcaster’s comment, “you’re listening to The Verve” is cut off, with Ashcroft next introducing “The Rolling People” after which he says “big ass motherfucker, straight to the BBC, no swearing, no smoking” as the band tore into the upbeat, driving song. Some nice jamming occurred in the song, with McCabe’s wah-wah and spacey effects dabbling around Ashcroft’s superb vocals to bring great results.
Thankfully, the fat boy inserts made a mistake in listing the songs performed, giving the listener an Easter egg of sorts while listening to the next song, “Neon Wilderness.” For some, the tune “Weeping Willow” on Urban Hymns was a highlight track; however, the inserts indicates that the song was unfortunately not played in this concert. Well, it was, and either the producer of this title intentionally left it off to surprise the listener, or just missed it.
Regardless, at 2:35 into the track the band stops so Salisbury could count-in with two hi-hat crashes to start “Weeping Willow.” And the song was performed beautifully, meandering and lyrically expanded by Ashcroft. Disc one concludes with “The Drugs Don’t Work” and an absolutely stunning rendition of “Lucky Man,” which Ashcroft said was dedicated to his wife, a truly classy touch.
Disc two contains the same powerful feelings as disc one, maybe more. Starting with the groovy “Life’s An Ocean,” where Ashcroft sang about waking in the future with a scream because he “was buying some feelings from a vending machine,” the band takes the song into the mountain peaks. Three minutes in was prime Verve with McCabe’s huge guitar sounds weaving around the groove created by Salisbury and Jones.
“Velvet Morning” followed, leading to a spectacular ten minute performance of “Bitter Sweet Symphony” that showcased an extended, triumphant set of measures involving the song’s unique string arrangements. Ashcroft did another beautiful job singing this song, adding to the emotional flavor that is so unmistakably evoked by its lyrics and embracing melody.
There was no let-up at any point in the show, with “One Day” (a song dedicated to “our Irish friends”), “History” and the meteoric “Come On” played to the end with passion and deftness.
It’s amazing, and a bit sad, that more live Verve is not out there for fans of what that band did for such a relatively short amount of time. As with much music collecting, it will likely be only through bootlegs that we can truly experience everything the band had to offer. Homecoming is a great example of just that and should be picked-up by anyone who was (or is) into The Verve.