A legendary band performing a legendary album at a legendary venue!
It's not very often that you have a chance to say something like that, let alone witness such a spectacle, but on Saturday, September 6, 2008, I was one of the lucky ones who was going to have that opportunity! For tonight, like last night at London's Roundhouse, Ash - as detailed in my special 1977 pre-gigs Q&A with Mark - are playing their full-length debut album, as well as delving into b-sides and rarities from that era, before returning to the stage for a svelte encore of Greatest Hits and new material.
Seeing the iconic Astoria with 'TONIGHT ASH 1977' spelt out in red letters on the 'what's showing' display outside, is enough to set any fan's pulse racing. Then, as Ash devotees make their way inside the sold out theatre, we're greeted with the stimulating sight of a mammoth 1977 stage backdrop and 1977 themed merchandise. At 8.15pm, as the lights dim and as a nod to the trio's inexhaustible affection for Star Wars, fittingly, the 20th Century Fox Fanfare is Mark, Rick and Tim's intro music for this evening, with the audience's vociferous cheers and the very lively atmosphere, no doubt also being heard in a galaxy far, far away! : )
For the next hour, there aren't going to be any surprises for those of us who know the 1977 tracklisting off by heart, but the prospect of hearing rarely performed songs and the full LP live, in running order - a record that lots of us have grown up with and absolutely adore - as part of an epochal set, is something rather special indeed. As the colossal sound of a TIE Fighter reverberates through the Astoria's speakers, Tim's escalating guitar-shredding becomes harder, faster and louder, signalling the start of the high-octane Lose Control. And with multi-coloured strobes flashing everywhere and Rick pummelling his drum kit intensely looking on, Mark and Tim do literally "Let it go," thrashing about all over the stage as if the spirit of rock 'n' roll has possessed their souls!
The mesmeric and melancholic Goldfinger, then sees the band bathed in gorgeous gold glitter-ball light and is nothing less than captivating, certainly befitting its 'golden oldie' status. Long regarded as one of Ash's finest compositions, its impressive musical structure is underpinned with some of Tim's most poignant (rite of passage) lyrics, detailing how at the time, his life was dramatically changing with the group's growing success.
What can be said about the beloved indie anthem Girl From Mars, that hasn't already been said? It's a stone cold classic that always gets the crowd going, and the brief moment after Tim's guitar solo where he delicately sings, "Today I sleep in the chair by the window, it felt as if you'd returned. I thought that you were standing over me, when I woke there was no-one there, I still love you, Girl From " before once again launching into the barnstorming, fuelled-up chorus with "Mars" is spine-tingling!
As with the 1977 album, I'd Give You Anything is devilish and discordant, before the bittersweet and beautiful Gone The Dream, comes as a blissful respite in what tonight, will be a predominately energised set list. Next up, the Ramones vs. Jackie Chan bar room brawl - otherwise known to you and me as Kung Fu, confidently flexes its muscles and complete with the song's popular midpoint breakdown, Mark and Rick's imperious bass and drums combo sounds immense and unstoppable! The guys are all beaming afterwards and are clearly revelling in every moment of this, their second celebratory 1977 show, which is a genuine sense of occasion for all who are here almost a reflected glory.
"Time to turn over to side two" Tim chuckles, and we all know what's coming next, the sublime Oh Yeah. This has to be one of my most favourite Ash tracks EVER - due to its sweet sentiment, sweeping strings, a magnificent melody and a wondrous, moreish guitar solo. Tim, whose voice sounds strong and assured, even encourages the audience to sing, "Oh yeah, she was taking me over and oh yeah, it was the start of the summer" a cappella style, before taking over the song's reigns once again. Both Let It Flow and Innocent Smile, see serious rock-outs and shape-throwing action occurring on stage, matched by frenzied pogoing from the spirited crowd on the sticky floor, as well as way up in the balcony.
Referring to the Astoria - which incidentally, having performed here more times than anybody else, is "the best venue to play in the world" according to Ash - Angel Interceptor is introduced by Tim with him remarking, "I remember playing this next song here in 1995, and it had just gone into the charts at # 14." Again, like the accompanying tracks from 1977, this is another slice of prime punk-pop and its euphoria and velocity are all-enveloping. Wow, is the only word that I can think of to describe the warm, glowing feeling I have inside!
Now it's time for the great lost Ash single that is Lost In You, which Mark revealed to R*E*P*E*A*T "is one of our greatest songs because the music and recording captured the emotion in the lyrics precisely. It was the last song recorded for the album, but arguably the best." And after this evening's rendition, you'd be foolish to disagree, as it sounds heaven sent! Particularly the aching key lines, "I'm dying to speak to you, dying to get through," plus "And you're far away, but you are always on my mind," that are topped off with yet another exceptional guitar solo from Mr. Wheeler, flaunting his unmistakable signature guitar tone in the process.
Both the band and the audience can't believe how quickly the gig is going, and the expansive Darkside Lightside packs a potent punch that finishes the 1977 set perfectly. There's no Sick Party, but that's perhaps not a bad thing after all! ; )
Mark, Rick and Tim, then take a well-deserved bow to rapturous applause and exit stage right. A few minutes later, 4 Stormtroopers escort them back on with their hands behind their heads - yes, you read that correctly, 4 Stormtroopers! Tim attempts to pacify the patrol by telling them and the baying crowd, "I guess we're gonna do an encore now." So, safe in the knowledge that Ash are going to play some more songs for us, the unit leave the stage satisfied.
We're then treated to the highly-anticipated selection of vintage b-sides and rarities from the 1977 vault, including a swaggering T.Rex. A cover of Dusty Springfield's I Only Want To Be With You - which Tim presents as "a camp classic that we used to play at the Astoria's G-A-Y Night." Followed by riotous interpretations of Helen Love's Punk Boy and Cantina Band from Star Wars. All of which, are left covered in the group's fingerprints.
A couple more Ash originals are also played, including Uncle Pat and the stunningly accomplished A Life Less Ordinary, which in 1997, was an important transitional song that the band now feel is one of their "best" - and rightly so, because to this day, it continues to be electrifying! The real highlight from this section of the nostalgic show tonight however, has to be Cantina Band, as it's so much fun, and afterwards, Tim jokes, "Whoever wrote that song must've been on A LOT of drugs!"
With a strict 10pm curfew, Ash promise to play as many songs as they possibly can before we run out of time, and fans are given a hefty Orpheus, a faithful cover of The Undertones' timeless Teenage Kicks - played because "a friend in attendance asked them if they could" - and a flawless Shining Light. Tim then announces that the group has been "secretly recording" lots of new songs this year, which are set to be released in 2009, and as a small taster, an acidic punky track entitled Ichiban (which in Japanese means # 1) is aired for our delectation. It's fast, it's furious and could well be the illegitimate love child of Iggy Pop's Lust For Life.
Jack Names The Planets is jubilant and pardon the pun, but Burn Baby Burn will forever be smokin' hot! While just as Darkside Lightside did earlier this evening, the epic Twilight Of The Innocents - a definitive career benchmark - suitably ends this half of the gig on an additional high note. Understandably, the trio are subsequently showered with roars of approval / appreciation, soaking up the audience's adulation with huge smiles on their faces, before waving goodbye to everyone with the Star Wars theme song playing in the background. A very apt finale indeed.
What a band, what a set, what a night - Mark, Rick and Tim did themselves proud!
As we all know, Ash have been "Making Noise Since 1977" and if tonight is anything to go by, they're still going to be making it and mining 'elixir of life' melodies for a good number of years to come yet! It will be exciting to relive the professionally filmed for posterity Roundhouse and Astoria shows @ www.ash-official.com once they're online. And of course, listening to the 1977 Deluxe Edition reissue (released November 3, 2008) - which is further proof of how the record has stood the test of time - will be a constant reminder of both gigs, bringing many fond memories flooding back for those of us who were fortunate enough to be there in person.
In closing, I'd just like to thank the guys for such a fantastic time, and for all of the other superb shows and music that you've given to us over the years - long may it continue.
Now bring on the new stuff! : )
A very special thanks to Ash, to Mark @ Outthere and to Ash's Tour Manager Rich, for all of their time and help.