Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Ash @ The Duchess, York, 25th July

I THINK I last saw Ash on their Free All Angels Tour and Snow Patrol were touring, back in the days when the SP live show featured some one on Decks and Beats. Christ, I’m showing my age aren’t I?

Well not really, for, as Ash perfectly prove, age is a state of mind. Frontman Tim Wheeler is but 34 yet Ash have a hugely enviable back catalogue behind them with many years still ahead. It’s 10 years since I saw them and in that time they’ve released ‘heavy’ album Meltdown, lost Charlotte Hatherley, released ‘final’ album Twilight of the Innocents’ and released a single ever fortnight for a year in their A-Z Series. In many ways they’ve ridden the changes of the industry pretty well and now have the dual benefits of being seen as legends whilst still being young and vital enough to roll with the times and make music that still matters.

All of which left me slightly surprised they were playing a venue the size of The Duchess in York. Surprised but excited. The Duchess is an old fashioned venue in the proper sense; underground, low ceilings, painted black artex walls and a LOUD sound system. Ash came onto the stage to a backing track that may have been a Bladerunner cut. Tim Wheeler, blessed with eternal youth sports a huge grin. Bassist Mark Hamilton, typically serious, is wearing a lovely vintage haircut of grungey curls, circa 1995. As the Tie Fighter SFX that opens ‘Lose Control’, the opening song from their debut ‘1977’ hits the crowd like we’re in a wind tunnel, I can tell we are in for a great night.

The first half of the set is very 1977 heavy, with ‘Girl From Mars’ coming 2nd in the set, closely followed by the classics ‘OhYeah’, ‘Goldfinger’ and ‘Kung Fu’. Tracks from the mini album ‘Trailer’ that proceeded ‘1977’ also make an appearance, yet they are all aired with the conviction of that band I saw 10 years ago, which is impressive in itself.

There’s not too much from the Hatherley era, though towards the end we get ‘Shining Light’ and the encore closes with ‘Burn Baby Burn’. The pure pop power of these undisputed classics does make it hard for the newer songs, especially the more experimental A-Z tracks to fit in. But most of it does. They play the instrumental ‘Sky Burial’ which is a good 8 minutes long, a massive sense of relief from the band that they managed to get all the way through. It’s a lull in the set certainly, but works as a mid set break and it’s pleasing to see something new, stopping the whole affair from becoming an exercise in nostalgia.

The enjoyment the band appear to be taking in this more intimate of gigs is clear to see. Wheeler, with coming up to 20 years experience in a band is still modest and a little shy with his between song banter and the whole event makes me feel part of something rather sweet. It’s also one of those moments where you check yourself, and realign your expectations; Ash are STILL brilliant. I always knew it, but this great gig was the little reminder I needed. To think I’d forgotten makes me feel rather ashamed. Must be the old age I guess.

Dean Freeman

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