Sunday, 6 February 2011

785 ASH, Bristol Academy, Friday 30 April 2010

An early trip to Bristol tonight to see perennially youthful Irish powerpoppers Ash, a couple of years after their last go-round proper. Since then, with the "mature" new direction of disappointing album "Twilight Of The Innocents" yielding no results, Ash had retreated from the normal recording and touring process, preferring instead to issue a series of singles under an "A-Z" banner via fortnightly internet download only, accompanied by a similar A-Z tour of tiny venues at the end of last year, which predictably not only sold out but also, even more predictably, came nowhere near Swindon! So this, along with a compilation CD of the first 13 "A-Z" singles, heralded a return to the "normal" rock'n'roll grind.

Rach and I popped down at 1/4 to 7, arriving at the venue an hour later following slow traffic into Bristol, to find that we'd missed both supports! A shame, as I was wanting to check out "South Africa's finest rock band" The Parlotones, but an upside was that we only had 1/4 hour to wait for Ash, due onstage at 8pm! We took a spot stage left on the 3/4 full floor for their prompt arrival, the usual trio, augmented by guest multi-instrumentalist Russell Lissack of Bloc Party, bursting into spritely opener "Lose Control". From the off the band were showing much more hunger and desire than a frustratingly moribund Bristol crowd, with Mark Hamilton in particular throwing dynamic Johnny Ramone shapes with his low-slung bass, so when a breathless Tim Wheeler introduction for second number, my favourite Ash song "A Life Less Ordinary", was met with similar apathy, I grabbed Rach and we piled down the front, creating a mini-mosh of our own!

Thus followed a set of two halves for us; the first was a joyous 3/4 hour of jumping up and down like loons down the front, with a splendid view of the onstage shenanigans. An early "Goldfinger" was a jumpabout sing-along anthem, "Petrol" was breathless as ever, the underrated, almost soulful "Shining Light" was as good as I've ever seen them play it, and jagged newie "Joy Kicks Darkness" came across superbly live, the soaring chorus taking flight and really resonating around the venue. The second was less enjoyable, as with the harder-edged pounding intro of "Orpheus", the place suddenly and unexpectedly went nuts, so we got out of the suddenly lad-flooded mosh to a vantage point stage right, behind some huge big-haired bloke! Bah!

The band could hardly be blamed for that though; they were on top form throughout with a splendid performance of their fresh, sing-along, flippant and spunky punky powerpop, with their new, more 80's influenced and occasionally keyboard embellished numbers (notably "True Love 1980" which came across like an OMD track!) sprinkled throughout the set, and really holding their own quality- and chorus-wise with punky oldies like "Kung Fu" and the Ramones-like "Walking Barefoot". Set closer "Return Of White Rabbit" ("we debuted this one at the Thekla," said Tim) saw a great set to a close, the only downside of which was an overlong cover of Weezer's "Only In Dreams".

Encores included a frantic "Jack Names The Planets", an unexpected and startlingly epic "Twilight Of The Innocents" (the only song played all night off their last album proper) and unmistakable final number, the signature chime of "Burn Baby Burn", after which the boys took a deserved bow and I grabbed a surprisingly easy set-list, my first for Ash after 13 attempts! A fine end to a splendid night, confirming Ash are back to their flippant, poppy best. Great stuff!

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