The popular narrative about mid-nineties guitar music often confines Ash to the second-tier, the position of ‘also-rans’, ignoring the band’s longevity and also the fact they wrote some of the best songs of that period, with smatterings of on-form wonders ever since.
A collective of those that understand this fact are gathered in an insanely hot The Venue in Derby, witnessing rising Manchester band Liines, who get better every time they take to the stage. Their tight rhythms and surging riffs bound from the stage with kinetic energy. Guitarist and vocalist Zoe McVeigh sings with pure, fractured emotion creating a vibe that would come from Sleater Kinney if they had emerged in post-punk Manchester.
Liines acknowledge the pleasure of being asked to support one of their favourite bands and step aside for a career-spanning masterclass from Ash.
The tie-fighter screeches that opened classic album ‘1997’ play and the trio launch straight into ‘Lose Control’, the album opener and the perfect punk blast to kick things off. The stunning non-album single ‘A Life Less Ordinary’ completes a double blow that turns the venue into a sweatbox of epic proportions.
Proving the depth of their career, they drop the slow rock stomper ‘Annabel’ from 2018’s Islands, before heading straight into the cartoon teen-punk shenanigans of ‘Kung Fu’ a solid highlight of 1977.
At this point they have already delivered a set that could be coined “greatest hits”, but they have so much more to offer as they draw from all corners of their career. They understand where their strengths lie drawing heavily from their career-best debut album, some of the best songs from that period. Is it possible to not like ‘Oh Yeah’, ‘Girl From Mars’ and ‘Goldfinger’? All of which feature to a rapturous response.
The band, despite the intense heat, play with joyous energy and pure love for being on stage. They have known nothing else since their mid-teenage years, and to see them still so thankful to be performing is a pleasure.
The set is completed with the biggest of hitters from the rest of their career like the rocking ‘Orpheus’ and ‘Buzzkill’, the slow-burning and melancholic ‘Walking Barefoot’ and the downbeat guitar-pop of ‘Confessions in the Pool’.
As the riff of Ivor Novello Award-winning classic ‘Shining Light’ chimes forth, Ash proves exactly why they mean so much to so many, still. As with the rest of the set, this is delivered perfectly as it combines a big chorus with some of the best love song lyric writing ever.
‘Numbskull’ from the much-derided second-album Nu Clear Sounds, even makes an appearance, and in context of this set shows how big a rock tune it is. That album deserves its reappraisal.
Dripping with sweat, the band wave and leave. That would be enough to satisfy, but they return for a three-song encore of the seductive ‘Did Your Love Burn Out?’, another 1997 hit single ‘Angel Interceptor’ and chart-smash ‘Burn Baby Burn’ from 2001’s ‘Free All Angels’.
And that is the end, there is no more to give, no more sweat to excrete, but Ash still have an abundance of tunes they have left to one side. Nothing is played from their Trailer mini-album and no space is found for any of their excellent cover versions, but it’s hard to complain. Ash deliver a stunning setlist whenever they play, simply because they have the tunes to spare.
Will a history re-write ever place Ash where they deserve to be? Maybe not, but it doesn’t matter. Right now, in this venue, they exactly where they need to be and the love is colossal.