Appropriately Downpatrick boys Ash are headlining this special St Patrick’s Day celebration in ALT. Inappropriately however, it’s the 20th March, not the 17th but the crowd milling around drinking green-bottled drinks and wearing shamrock-tipped headgear don’t really seem to mind. After almost sixteen years of music-making an Ash gig now feels like a greatest hits set mingled with a few treats.
As strains of the now infamous tie fighter intro to -Lose Control’ squeal through the speakers, the band storm onstage in a blast of pure energy. Aware they are playing to a crowd who won tickets to a -secret’ gig, the band are quick to try and capture their attention, following up their opener with a version of -Teenage Kicks’ – a sure-fire way to appeal to most young Paddy’s Day revellers. But they don’t really need to entice the crowd with student anthems, their own back catalogue still stands up to scrutiny. The set-list is solid from -A Life Less Ordinary’, no less powerful minus Charlotte Hatherly, to -Kung Fu’ to the sing-along -Shining Light’ and as -Oh Yeah’ kicks in, we’re transported back to our youthful, school-day nostalgia. This fizzling ode to teenage hormones reminds us of days long ago. Admittedly, the majority of the audience were still at primary school when Irish teenagers were kissing at fairgrounds to this song. Is that a real memory or was it the music video? Either way, we’re in 1996 again and everything feels just fine.
Of course we’re not just here to relive the past as enjoyable as that may be. Having sworn themselves off albums some three years ago, Ash have currently hit the half-way mark on their A-Z Series, twenty-six singles released every fortnight. It’s a format that appears to be continually work-intensive if the furious promotion surrounding the series is anything to go by. But then again who would expect a unique and demanding release schedule to be anything but? The project requires fans to be constantly in tune with the band’s output. But our Northern lads do not shy away from experiment. Their decision to disregard the easy path has stood them in good stead as they explore a new musical direction.
Tonight they display their more electro-tinged wares including the upbeat, radio-friendly auto-harp/synth pop -Space Shot’, full of meaningless rhymes such as ‘Automatic, get in the flow, think I’m mutating, just so you know’. No need to make sense when you’re having this much fun. In comparison, -Neon’, a gorgeous song about chance and fate, comes across much weaker live as Tim’s voice struggles to give it the beauty it deserves. The set draws to a close with an extended mix of -Return of White Rabbit’ complete with electro-dance breakdown. Slightly ridiculous, slightly brilliant, it’s so un-Ash that it’s hard to take seriously but being one of their best songs, you really must.
As the band return for their encore, there is a moment of confusion as Tim realises he’s got the wrong guitar and swaps it for his trademark Flying-V for -Arcadia’, arguably A-Z’s best single – pure sparkling, angelic-pop, all killer choruses and dreamy, uplifting lyrics. Republic of Loose frontman, Mick Pyro, is called onstage to join the Nordies onstage for an Irish sing-song -Whiskey in the Jar’ before Ash call it a day with their pop-punk favourite -Burn Baby Burn’. If there is anything that lets them down this evening, it’s the sound, which is adequate as opposed to excellent, with different aspects of the evening from vocals to guitar occasionally getting lost in the mix. But all in all, it’s a tight performance from a trio of hard-working, constantly evolving musicians – a band we can truly rely on.
Photos: Kieran Frost