Live Review: Ash - O2 Ritz, Manchester 23/10/2018

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No bells, whistles or bullshit here- these Belfast punk pop legends just wanna play the hits.

Me and Ash have previous. "Girl from Mars" was the first song I ever remember hearing in my life. At seven years old, I held up a copy of ‘Intergalactic Sonic 7's’ asking my Dad if he'd put the soundtrack to Star Wars on. And the first time I saw them live, I ended up hospitalised. So whilst these boys are typical 90's nearly-men to many, for me they're a band who've played a pivotal part in my life- purely by accident mostly. They're a band to depend on, you know what you're getting- they're never gonna experiment with space rock, hip-hop beats and dubstep breaks. You're getting grungey chord sequences, euphoric guitar solos and proper "woooah" choruses. Promoting their latest album ‘Islands’, the trio hit Manchester with a barrage of tunes for everyone.

Admittedly kicking off with lacklustre album opener ‘True Story’ was a difficult move. But when you've got a song with the energy and fizz of ‘Kung Fu’, false starts are meaningless. The pace of the show doesn't really let up from there. For a gig that seemed hardly represented (in comparison with the IDLES gig at the same venue on Friday, it seemed half full) the connection between crowd and band was telepathic. The outro of ‘Oh Yeah’ sounded like it was being played in a full room twice the size. The new songs however sounded like they were being played for the sake of it. New single ‘Annabel’ and ‘Is It True’ were played with little guile and just passed by. There were exceptions; the double whammy of ‘All That I Have Left’ and ‘Incoming Waves’ were equally anthemic and emotionally tinged but Ash seemed most comfortable when those phenomenal 90's/00's singles were aired. 

‘Girl From Mars’ and ‘Burn Baby Burn’ naturally closed the set to the most rapturous of applause but the real highlights of the set were when any of the remaining pretence was dropped and the boys just had fun. A brief snippet of the famous ‘Cantina Band’ (Mos Eisley Cantina in Star Wars: The New Hope. I know) was dedicated to the support band Death by Unga Bunga and they subsequently joined Ash on stage to perform ABBA's classic ‘Does Your Mother Know’ with about eight guitar lines. Absolutely ridiculous but phenomenal fun. By the time Tim Wheeler played his hundredth guitar solo, smiles swept the entire room.  Ash's next album will undoubtedly be the same as the last one, but these songs and this band will never go away. And the country is all the better for it.

Words by James Kitchen