STORY WRITTEN BY BRIAN BINGAMAN
@brianbingaman on Twitter
Michigan alternative band The Verve Pipe are performing two different kinds of shows these days.
The “all-ages” rock show, drawing from a catalog of six albums, is what you’ll hear at the Haverford Spring Festival. It includes songs like “Photograph” and the top 5, gold-selling “The Freshmen.”
But you won’t hear “Bittersweet Symphony;” that’s by a different band called The Verve.
“It was the most random thing. There’s still confusion,” said Verve Pipe singer/songwriter/guitarist Brian Vander Ark, recalling the horror he felt upon seeing an ad promoting an album by the British band. “The Verve probably had it worse — ‘Play The Freshmen!’”
Vander Ark jokes in his Twitter bio at @brianvanderark1: “I sing for Verve Pipe. We had a hit — ‘The Freshmen.’ Not ‘Bittersweet Symphony,’ which was The Verve, but wtf, I take credit for it sometimes.”
The Verve Pipe also has a show geared to children and families, with a set list that exclusively sticks to three Verve Pipe “kindie” albums. That’s what they’ll be up to when they return to the area May 15 for a World Café Live “Peanut Butter and Jams” series show. “The Freshmen” does not appear in that set, said Vander Ark, because the song’s brooding lyrics about coping with the aftermath of suicide and abortion render it inappropriate.
“I’m not gonna play that at a kids show. We get booed for not playing it,” he said.
Recently at a kids show in Detroit, “this 5-year-old held up this sign — she probably spent hours on it — that said: ‘Please play The Freshmen.’ You wanna just strangle the parents,” said Vander Ark.
However, Verve Pipe merchandise sales during the kids shows are so successful that it actually offsets the cost of touring with the rock show, according to Vander Ark.
But being booed for not playing their most well-known song at a show for kids is nothing compared to the hostile reception the band repeatedly endured in 1996 opening for Kiss (Gene Simmons personally invited them), during a highly anticipated tour that revived that band’s trademark makeup and reunited the original lineup. Later, they re-joined Kiss for a European leg of the tour, which went “slightly better.” In Prague, Vander Ark said, “they just wanted to hear anybody go out and play rock ‘n’ roll.”
The song “Colorful,” which was lip synched by Mark Wahlberg in the 2001 film “Rock Star,” was written by Vander Ark specifically for the movie. The producers were looking for “a Seattle-esque kind of ballad,” he remembered. It was the icing on the cake of getting cast in the small role of Ricki Bell of the fictional band Blood Pollution. While on the set of “Rock Star,” he wrote most of The Verve Pipe’s fourth album “Underneath,” which also featured “Colorful.”
Of leaving out the kid songs for Haverford on May 1, Vander Ark said, “Look, we’re all relatable guys from the Midwest, and it resonates with people. The effective shows are the rock shows. We embrace our past and we enjoy playing those songs (from the ’90s).”