When My Bloody Valentine re-emerged in 2008 to play a series of acclaimed shows and festivals, it appeared to have sparked a resurgence of interest in the shoegaze scene they inadvertently spawned in the late 80s. Since then, other stalwarts of the scene such as Swervedriver, Lush and Slowdive have all resumed touring and recording activities, with Ride returning in 2014. Although their first album Nowhere was in thrall to the effects-laden sound of The Jesus and Mary Chain and MBV, the follow-up Going Blank Again appeared to show a willingness to leave their shoegaze roots behind and bring the pop hooks to the fore. Yet, they remained lumped in with the shoegaze gang and when it came for the all-powerful music press at the time to stick the boot into the scene they themselves had built up, Ride were part of the cull. Like so many of the acts that existed in the first few years of the 90s, they shone brightly before fizzling out quickly when labels and the music press lost interest and music fans were looking for the next bandwagon to jump on. That duly came in the form of Britpop. The swagger of Brett Anderson and Jarvis Cocker, the edgy charisma of the Gallagher brothers and the self-reflexive intelligence of Blur trampled on everything than came before. How were these introverted dreamers that preferred to stare at their effects pedals instead of making eye-contact with the audience (hence the term ‘shoegaze’) supposed to compete with the extroverted showmen of Britpop? Ride battled on with two more albums but by the mid-90s, shoegaze was dead in the water and Ride called it a day.
It was a sad end to the band, and shoegaze as a whole, as the sub-genre was a cathartic and innovative detour away from the conventions of formulaic, guitar-based music. It was, in its own way, a scene as powerful and influential as punk and grunge but without the credibility those two movements continue to possess. With homogeneous pop reigning supreme and bona fide rock bands bizarrely thin on the ground, it is as good a time as any for it to return. As a comeback project, Ride seem to be going about it in all the right ways. Reports from previous shows reveal a band sounding better than ever and the two new songs that have appeared online – the wonderful ‘Charm Assault’ and ‘Home Is A Feeling’ – are clear evidence that the songwriting chops are still in place. It all bodes well for the new album Weather Diaries that will appear in the summer on Wichita Records.
And so it is on a miserably wet Wednesday night that they descend on the Olympia for a night of wistful nostalgia, with obvious nods to the past but a very real sense of a new journey about to be undertaken. The band’s guitarist and co-vocalist Andy Bell once said a reunion would ‘not live up to expectations’. He’d probably be the first to admit he was wholly wrong in that assumption. The amiable Oxford four-piece look largely similar as they did two decades ago, the passing of time only evident via the bald crown of frontman Mark Gardener. It’s a no-frills affair, with the band’s name writ large and unadorned on a banner behind them. Two new songs – ‘Lannoy Point’ and the aforementioned ‘Charm Assault’ – open the show and it’s testament to the band that these new songs are a match for any of the older classics in the set. Yet, the biggest cheers of the night are reserved for old familiars. ‘Twisterella’, ‘OX4’ and ‘Vapour Trail’ receive whoops of approval which are rewarded with the band playing them with a precision and enthusiasm that belies the fact they took a twenty-year break as a band. ‘Drive Blind’s mid-song interlude of coruscating feedback and white noise could either be viewed as a homage to, or a rip-off of, My Bloody Valentine’s similar stunt during ‘You Made Me Realise’. Either way, it’s an impressive display, showcasing Ride’s desire to delve into pure noise when the moment requires it. ‘Leave Them All Behind’, still their finest moment, is reserved for the encore. It’s their own Paranoid Android, an ever-shifting, eight-minute epic journey beginning with that opening coda of jabbing Hammond organ borrowed from The Who’s ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’ right through to its pulverising climax. It still sounds as idiosyncratic today as it did in 1992.
Tonight’s show is so effortlessly accomplished you wonder why they were absent for so long. Yet, maybe the very act of disappearing, to explore new avenues and to resolve creative differences (Gardener went solo; Bell became, somewhat ironically, bass-player with Oasis) has resulted in a new understanding and appreciation of how good they were in the first place. It’s good to have them back.