You can almost smell the Strongbow. Laden with a blend of teenage angst and happy recollections, for those of us currently creeping reluctantly towards middle age Ash will always hold a certain place in our lives. ‘Girl From Mars’ was the soundtrack to summers discovering cider and music, parties and chemistry. They might still be going strong, but there’s a clear element of pure nostalgia. They also served as a fantastic rock/ indie gateway drug. Poppy enough to be immediately relatable, but with some riffs that explode into life live, the Downpatrick lads can claim influence over a generation that would go on to fixate on the likes of Radiohead and At The Drive-In.
In truth, Wheeler, Hamilton and co. have probably found it hard to move on. Tonight’s crowd is still mad for the old ones, with the bounce-along heart of today’s set built around the highlights of those first four albums. ‘Angel Interceptor’ into ‘Oh Yeah’ is like an instant transportation to 1996. ‘Girl From Mars’, and crowd-request additions ‘Numbskull’ and ‘Wildsurf’ remind that even in their latest, return-to-roots three-piece formation, Ash can pack a punch.
Of course, this tour is – theoretically at least – primarily about new release, Kablammo, which is also the source of many of the gig’s slower moments. The releases of the last ten years or so have genuinely added to Ash’s live set up, especially in terms of adding texture. ‘Twilight of the Innocents’ is a huge and welcome change of direction. ‘Saskia’ almost edges into dance-punk. Both offer essential variety. The new record, though, is clearly not settled live yet and sounds very much like late ’90s Ash. You could tag this a ‘return to form’, but live it simply comes across as less cutting. Less hooky. Just less.
Still, the way Ash construct a set suggests they know where their strengths lie. Rarely three songs go by without a scorching turn of the century single. They’re relentlessly quickfire, slamming through tracks, and hitting 25 or so tracks in a two hour setlist. The venue is a sweatpit; the energy in the front few rows relentless. Tim Wheeler is the star. Grinning unstoppably as he power chords his way through the night, the frontman’s new hair flick has finally made him look like a post-teenager himself. He seems on superb form, enjoying life in a way that’s seemed lacking the last couple of times we’ve caught the band. Mark Hamilton – as usual – is quiet but vital, throwing out rock poses on the other half of the stage as Rick McMurray struggles through, still delivering a tight back beat.
Kablammo sits on the periphery, however, acting as a break for the bouncing front rows and, perhaps, an excuse for a band who’ve always been exceptional on stage to hit the road and leap about all over again. Ash in their latest form are raw, buzzing and relentless. The album’s influence is on the light side, but they’re all the better for it.
Ash photographed for State by Kieran Frost.