Ash - Manchester Academy 3

And then there were three. Again. Good job that Ash, a never once trendy and also a criminally under-loved band, had become such a well-drilled live option during Charlotte's lengthy tenure. So, reduced to the classic rock formation, it's heartening to report that they still cut it so, so well onstage. To whoops and screams, in front of, what, three hundred fans, they kick the doors down with the squall and throb of 'Lose Control' and then plough straight into 'Burn baby Burn'. The sound is loud, bassy but surprisingly clear for this pit. Tim's voice is up in the mix and you can actually hear his vocals. Said vocals are good tonight, it's worth pointing out; those of us who miss Charlotte do so largely because she was so cool and added colour to the gang, but a few of her 'Whooos' would have filled the odd gap on, say, the choruses of 'Orpheus' and 'Burn Baby Burn'. But, overall, fear not. As a three piece, Ash sound huge. Mark's bass is removing my sternum, Rick has the ghost of John Bonham paying him nightly visits.

Tonight's show, part of their 'Higher Education 2007' tour, getting back to basics in tiny student venues, features half a dozen new songs and a batch of fan favorites. The new songs, on first hearing, sound largely good, a couple of them pretty memorable. 'Roulette' is a Strokes-y staccato trick-track, flattened arpeggios and a big chorus. 'You Can't Have it All' is big daft pop blast with about half a dozen fat hooks. 'Polaris' is quieter, moody and drifting. For May's forthcoming album, things sound promising, less metallic than 2004's brilliant but pummeling 'Meltdown'.

But, open to new experiences we may be, we still want sweeter thrills from the back catalogue, if you don't mind, lads. Never fear. Early on we get 'Orpheus' (which I still think would have been a hit for them if they'd had the bloody common sense to call it 'Sunshine in the Morning') and 'Goldfinger', the latter signalling the return of that quaint old custom so beloved of scruffy looking boys with dirty footwear, crowd-surfing. Even better, Tim announces towards the end of the set : "We'd like to play a few old classics for you." You've got to admire such almost inadvertant big-headedness. But, after a triple hit of the sensational 'A Life Less Ordinary', 'Oh Yeah' and 'Girl from Mars', you'd struggle to pull him up on it. There are many stone-cold gems in the Ash canon - check out the 'Intergalactic Sonic 7"s' best-of for incontrovertible proof.

I have to scoot before the encores but I hear they play 'Petrol', super forthcoming single 'I Started a Fire' and 'Kung Fu'. Either way, the hour I heard was enough for now, with a full scale tour planned to support the album in May. If the overly packaged upstarts clogging the airwaves leave you keen for something with genuine punk rock and pop spirit, you could do so much worse than go back to this lot. Certainly if you want a rock band whose leader's song-writing savvy is more Finn than Doherty, and who really do play exceptionally well under their rock 'n' roll thunder, then look this way. And they're still so young, for Pete's sake ! How old were they when they started ? Jeez. Keep it going, boys. As their name simply doesn't suggest, they're still burning bright.

(Oh and, because I can, if you're the lardy fool who pushed my wife aside on the way to the front, pausing to stick two fingers up at her when she questioned your manners, before disappearing into the crowd ... your hair is poor and you have a notably simian look. Sleep well, monkey boy.)

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