RPA & United Nations of Sound - Shepherd's Bush Empire, London - Gigs - Reviews - Soundblab

RPA & United Nations of Sound - Shepherd's Bush Empire, London

by Lawrence Poole Rating: Release Date:

I'm surprised a bunch of clipboard-grasping scientists haven't scrutinised water samples from the 1960s and early 1970s in the Greater Manchester area for a devilish record label exec hoping to clone a frontman - since during a 10-year period the capital of the North West managed to produced not one but three titans of British rock'n'roll. Ian Brown, Richard Ashcroft and Liam Gallagher all share those simian good looks, street swagger and shamanic mystique, which have been mimicked and honed by fans and future rock stars alike.

At a buoyant Shepherd's Bush Empire on Wednesday night the middle of these three northern totems was in typically fiery, ebullient form, seemingly untouched by nature and the mental ravages the ups and downs his formative band The Verve's repeated break-ups must have inflicted upon him. Throughout his career, though, the 38-year-old has repeatedly shown a tireless ability to do what he needs to in order to get his career back on track. When The Verve split for the second time after the multi-million selling success of 1997's seminal album Urban Hymns, he threw himself into a flourishing, if unspectacular solo career.

When diminishing returns kicked in and this began to flounder, old buddy Chris Martin ushered him on stage at Live8 to blast through the epochal 'Bittersweet Symphony' and remind the world just how great he can be. A third reunion with The Verve followed in 2008, but Ashcroft's single-mindedness and inhabiting-a-different-planet persona is apparently just too large to settle in a long-term band environment - so the man the NME harshly dubbed 'Mad Richard' went looking for that spark again. He appears to have found it with his new incarnation, Richard Ashcroft and the United Nations of Sound.

Consisting of American musicians and producers - including Motown giant Reggie Dozier - who were largely oblivious to his work prior to their first meeting, Ashcroft sought to make the sort of hip-hop-tinged maelstroms that Urban Hymns hinted at. At the Empire, the tightly-knit sextet ran through a well-balanced set containing a huge helping of old stuff (perhaps more than the frontman would have wanted to air, but tickets had to shifted) and most of their forthcoming self-titled LP. 'Are You Ready?' was a rabble-rousing call to arms, while 'Born Again' was far sparkier than the radio edit I had heard earlier in the day. Elsewhere the soulful Americana also impressed.

Sadly, some of the same MOR pitfalls of his solo albums are also fallen into ('She Brings Me the Music' in particular) but overall, Ashcroft and his new outfit deserve further inspection - in the live arena at least. Of course, the majority of the shaggy-haired indie kids and 40-somethings who had pressed their Fred Perrys especially longed to hear a run through the classics and they weren't disappointed. 'Lucky Man', 'History', 'Sonnet', 'Song for the Lovers' were real 'lifting girlfriends on shoulders' highlights, but it was the opening strains of those majestic strings on 'Bittersweet Symphony' which hit home hardest. Apparently bassist DW Wright had repeatedly begged Ashcroft to play it live again after coming to the track late on; thankfully for us, he relented. Wright meanwhile was having a whale of a time, thrusting his bass skywards in unison with his singer's vertical fist punches.
Due out on July 19, I just wonder now whether the album can have the same impact as a physical release. One thing's for sure - one of the North West's finest remains a compelling and engaging live force.

Comments (0)

There are no comments posted here yet