Monday 8 September 2008

Ash at the Roundhouse 05.09.2008

Ash pic by Faye Wigham

With the exception of Mindless Self Indulgence a few months ago, it seems that every time that I go to The Roundhouse, it is to see some band that have either reformed or who are essentially turning into their own tribute band. As a venue it is a musical graveyard.

These last Friday and Saturday nights have been prime examples of this phenomenon.

On Friday we have Ash playing their debut ‘1977’ album in its entirety. 2008 is not a particularly significant anniversary (it was originally released in 1996), and although popular, it is arguably not even their best album – I’d give that accolade to the less-loved follow up ‘Nu-Clear Sounds’ or to ‘Free All Angels’.

So tonight’s event may have more to do with the band needing a little love after the departure of guitarist Charlotte Hatherley and the relative flop of 2007’s ‘Twilight of the Innocents’.

I’ll gloss over the distinctly ordinary support act Fighting With Wire and reflect on the main event.

Ash have long been obsessed with Star Wars, and throughout tonight’s performance the stage is patrolled by Imperial Storm Troopers from that franchise. The law of diminishing returns sets in – the first time it happens it is a welcome novelty, but after a while it becomes a needless distraction.

There is no other preamble. The lights come on and with a bang and we are straight into ‘Lose Control’. Ash are a formidable live unit, who are happiest when rocking out at full blast. Tim Wheeler poses with his axe, bassist Mark Hamilton nods his head in approved metal manner and Rick McMurray pounds away on his enormous drum kit.

There is little subtlety about this part of the show, with everything taken at full pelt. And what seemed true when the album came out is equally apparent now – Ash are a singles band, and in this period, a very good one.

‘Girl From Mars’ and particularly ‘Oh Yeah’ sound as good now as they ever did. The crowd sings along happily. However, the non-single tracks are nondescript and the second half of this part of the show is starved of hits.

After a brief encore, things get much more interesting, as the band unearth rarities from this era. In addition to a rousing version of debut single ‘Jack Names the Planets’, there is a cover of ABBA’s ‘Does Your Mother Know?’ and the Star Wars ‘Cantina Band’ (Storm Troopers much to the fore).
Having seen Ash many times over the years, I know that if they have one failing, it is that they can outstay their welcome. And so it is as they come out for a third time, to play odds and ends from throughout their career.

What must be worrying for the band, and a reflection of the theme that I touched on above, is that the one track they announce as “This is new, we’ve been playing it at the festivals this summer” falls completely flat. The crowd is as still and quiet as a mill pond.

When their last album stiffed, Ash announced that they would not be releasing any more, but would release individual tracks via downloads. There is a real air about this evening as though they are winding down, or rather that they have passed from being a vibrant new band to a group that will hence forward always be defined by what they have achieved in the past. As long as they play their hits, folk will still come out to see them, but the spark has gone.

Best to remember them as they were.

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