It’s good to know that one can sell seven million records, live in an English manor worth a half million pounds, be routinely compared to Mick Jagger and Jim Morrison, and still take the cramped stage of the Double Door with something to prove. These two sold-out shows, rescheduled from November, will be the first U.S. concerts by singer-songwriter Richard Ashcroft, whose old band the Verve scored a Top 40 hit in the summer of 1997 with “Bitter Sweet Symphony.” That ubiquitous single drew its psychedelic sweep from an icy string sample from an orchestral arrangement of the Rolling Stones’ “The Last Time,” and on a European tour last year Ashcroft was backed by a band that included Verve drummer Peter Salisbury and pedal steel star B.J. Cole. But the singer will go it alone for his 12 North American dates, accompanying himself on acoustic and electric guitar, and though he’ll undoubtedly employ a drum machine, a sampler, and every effects pedal known to man, I’m curious whether his airy, vaguely articulated songs will really connect without the velvet production of the records. That said, his masterful new album, Alone With Everybody (Virgin), is a worthy successor to the Verve’s Urban Hymns: the hypnotic “I Get My Beat,” with its languid strings and soulful chorus, is the perfect sound track for your next dip in the sensory deprivation tank; “Brave New World” effortlessly mingles violins with Cole’s pedal steel, and the expansive optimism of “C’mon People (We’re Making It Now)” may warm the cockles of your heart if you can get past the fact that the guy still wears a crucifix as a fashion accessory. A note to Friday’s ticket holders: Ashcroft will be in New York in the afternoon to tape a Letterman appearance, so if he comes on at midnight looking a little disoriented, remind him he’s in Chicago. Friday and Saturday, January 19 and 20, 10 PM, Double Door, 1572 N. Milwaukee; 773-489-3160.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Kevin Westenberg.