TVD Live Shots: Richard Ashcroft at the O2 Forum Kentish Town, 12/22

One thing that I’ve learned after living in the UK for nearly three years is that the rock stars here are much different from those in the rest of the world. They’re more opinionated, more resilient, more passionate about their fans, and they don’t take shit from anyone.

Case in point, Richard Ashcroft. This guy has had one hell of a ride over the past number of decades—from being in one of the most influential and successful UK bands, to being sued by the Rolling Stones in a landmark case that stemmed from a sampling matter. So what does one do almost three decades into a career? You make yet another bold statement through your music and release arguably your best solo album to date.

Natural Rebel is the fifth solo record from the former Verve frontman. It’s 1970s symphony-infused rock, combining the best elements from George Harrison, Neil Diamond, Bob Dylan, Tom Petty—and a warning to the next generation (along with a dose of humor). It’s a brilliant record from start to finish, and the more I listen to it the more I become interested in who Richard is as a person at the moment. The media loves to tear this guy down for one reason or another, and if you watch any of his recent interviews, he isn’t having it.

Ashcroft even went so far as to burn a 2006 copy of NME on which he graced the cover after the editors gave Natural Rebel a two-star review. “I don’t give fuck. You won’t get another word out of me. Carry on, carry on,” said Ashcroft. And I have to agree with him here. It begs the question again and again—do critics matter as much as they once did? I mean, who do you trust more in the era of social transparency, a fan or a critic?

Of course, there is time and a place for critics, I grew up reading them, and they shaped who I am today, and I still look to the ones who I trust for guidance. But are the wrong people reviewing the wrong records? Have the media lost their focus in a rush to go viral as to serve their audience first? Who’s going to save the major media outlets in the future if this lack of focus continues? This a much bigger conversation of course, but in the meantime I’m confused as to how anyone could see the live show and then tear this record down in any way, or question Ashcroft’s dedication to his craft, or his passion for making music other than what the X Factor is manufacturing.

Pardon the short rant—now on to the live show. This was the first time I’ve seen Richard Ashcroft live, and I even bought a ticket to the show. Imagine that, a blogger purchasing a ticket to review a show. Actually, I bought two so that I could bring my wife. Not only was it a chance to see a music icon live, but in the “intimate” settings of the O2 Forum Kentish Town. There was no way I was going to take a chance on missing this one as of course it would sell out in minutes, and it did. The live show was everything I’d wanted to see from Ashcroft. New songs, old songs, Verve classics—a glorious sixteen song set that could have easily been a festival headliner for a crowd of just over two thousand fans.

So hats off to one of the few artists on the planet who continue to push not only the music world forward but also the legacy of one of the most important bands from the UK. Natural Rebel is a brilliant record and will certainly top my “best of” list for 2018. My only complaint is that I would have loved to see “Money Money” open the record instead of closing it, as it introduces the state of mind that Ashcroft is currently in while also embracing the album’s title.

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