Ash - Wulfrun Hall, Wolverhampton
Some attending Ash's Wolverhampton Wulfrun Hall show are old enough to remember a Radio 1 interview discussing the future with band frontman and A-level student Tim Wheeler. It's been quite a journey into adulthood for the Downpatrick band, who we find twenty-one years later, slightly older and wiser, playing in support of their new album Kablammo! to the broad range of fans they've accumulated along the way.
Wearing rolled-up shirt sleeves and sporting a suitably business-meaning haircut, frontman Tim Wheeler is accompanied by bassist Mark Hamilton and drummer Rick McMurray to form the band's classic three-piece lineup. Despite being a three-piece, Ash have no problem audibly and spatially filling the stage. Wheeler paces like a careful Wilko Johnson with an occasional pose, and even snarl, but despite increasing perspirations through his (blue!) shirt, this remains a controlled performance.
The setlist fluctuates between old and new, the classic tracks receiving applause beforehand, the punchy Kablammo! songs receive genuine applause after – the band indulge themselves in the instrumental 'Evel Knievel' guitar solo, and in the more plaintive 'Machinery' we imagine a future anthem. But current anthems hold the emotional purchase, the audience's earlier restrained singing erupts into spontaneous chorus during the band's most clear ode to first love 'Oh Yeah', and continues after the song's conclusion. The audience's appreciation is reflected back on Wheeler's face.
The almost capacity 1,100 venue enthusiastically receives Wheeler's affectionate banter, his introduction "It's great to be back in Wolves" is more than a tick for using the city's colloquial name as he recounts – and counts – earlier visits. His question, "Who was here with us in 1995?" is first answered by a hopeful amount of voices but soon whittled down to one definite. Wheeler smiles back "Thanks!", genuinely grateful. That reflected appreciation rarely leaves us.
The set heads towards its close with an anthemic trilogy, 'Shining Light' followed by 'Girl from Mars' and 'Walking Barefoot', during which some audience members finally relent to join the not overly agressive mosh pit. We wonder if only now Ash have grown into these songs which describe the tensions between the past, present and future. Regardless, younger audience members look to the present and future as some songs did in 1995, the older look to the past as some songs do in 2015. Clearly, the band's version of their compatriots 'Teenage Kicks' needs no appropriation.
Ash’s urgent songs with explanatory lyrics belie their emotional impact. As band members close the night bowing to the audience, Wheeler explains they hope to return next year. On their return should he ask, "Who was here with us in 2015?" he'll receive more than one definite reply.
Go! Fight! Win!
A Life Less Ordinary
Jack Names the Planets
Girl from Mars
Teenage Kicks (The Undertones cover)
Burn Baby Burn