Saturday, April 7, 2007

Tibetan Freedom Concert '98: Bittersweet Memory

I can't believe it. I almost saw The Verve nine years ago and I didn't even know it. I attended the Tibetan Freedom Concert in Washington, DC in the summer of 1998 at RFK Stadium. When the lineup was announced, I knew that I couldn't miss it. Some of the biggest bands of the 90's were going to be there, including Pearl Jam, the Beastie Boys, the Chili Peppers, REM, and Radiohead. Looking at that list now, nine years later, these are still five of the most popular acts in the world. Even if you weren't a fan of music, you wanted to be at RFK for this historic event.

For some reason, I found myself looking at the event poster online today and I noticed that UK rockers The Verve were listed as playing on Sunday, day two of the weekend event. I immediately started thinking to myself, did the Verve play on Sunday? I would have remembered that, right? I was sure that they hadn't. So my next question was, why didn't they play their set?

According to the band's profile on Wikipedia:

Then, as the band was on a successful 1997-98 tour to promote the album, bassist Simon Jones collapsed on stage. Nick McCabe suddenly pulled out of the tour and decided he couldn't tolerate the constant life on the road any longer. Ashcroft, sans bandmates, appeared on the cover of magazine in early 1998.

The band continued with established session guitarist B. J. Cole replacing McCabe, but the spark of their return seemed to be deserting them. After two headline performances at the V Festivals in 1998, and one at Slane Castle outside Dublin, everything went quiet. Rumours began circulating that the band had called it quits for good. Finally, in April 1999, it was announced that The Verve had split up.

So the summer of 1998 was clearly a turbulent time in the band, but why exactly didn't they perform? Upon further digging, I came upon this review one of the concerts they did play that summer (on 7/31/98 in Canada):

The band could also be a little rusty on this stop on their 32-gig European and North American tour because nine shows were recently cancelled when bassist Simon Jones came down with a serious viral infection. The Tibetan Freedom Concert in Washington, D.C. and giant Danish rock festival Roskilde were among the cancelled dates.
So there you have it. I was a bassist illness away from seeing one of the most important UK acts of the 90s and I wasn't even paying attention. Since that benefit concert, I have gone on to become a huge fan of Verve frontman Richard Ashcroft's solo career. Alone With Everybody, released in 2000, remains as one of my favorite albums of all time. In working backwards in Richard's career, I ultimately became a fan of The Verve as well.

Check out the original concert poster featuring the Verve in Sunday's lineup:

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