The Ash star, it seems, is still in the ascent some ten years after they emerged – impossibly young and full of pop hooks – in the mid-nineties. Not bad when you consider how other young upstarts from then – Sleeper, The Supernaturals, The Warm Jets (remember them??) have faded into indie obscurity. Ash have ridden out that awkward second album and continued to grow with each subsequent record. In fact, this is their biggest London gig, as Tim Wheeler proudly informs us a few songs in.
It’s easy to see why. Tonight’s set comprises past hits and key tracks off the new album, and displays the progression of Ash’s music since their salad days of Girl From Mars and Kung Fu compared to the Iggy Pop-esque Jesus Says and the most recent single Orpheus. Ash have continuously strived to make their bubblegum punk heavier – not for nothing did they hire Foo Fighters producer Nick Raskulinecaz for their current album.
The recruitment of Charlotte Hatherley was also a pretty good move. Injecting some well-needed sex appeal into the band, she’s also an inventive guitarist and backing singer. All of these things make Ash more interesting than your average indie rock outfit.
Despite all this, and the frantic pogoing going on at the front, tonight’s gig just seemed to lack any real edge. It certainly wasn’t short on energy or volume, but being fast and deafening doesn’t make a band rock. Ash’s sound may have hardened recently but it’s like giving a chainsaw to Barbie – you can’t really imagine her doing anything dangerous with it. Tim Wheeler’s voice, despite the muscles he’s packed on since his teens, is still pretty weedy. The band also lack the arch humour of bands like Supergrass or Foo Fighters, leaving them strangely one-dimensional.
There’s little variation of sound too, as Ash seem incapable of playing anything quietly. Even Shining Light – probably the slowest song of the set – suffers from way-too-loud drumming. Consequently, when they come to the really great wig-out songs such as Burn Baby Burn there’s nowhere for them to go as they’ve already been equally as loud and fast in the last song.
Perhaps these criticisms miss the point of Ash. After all, the audience came to pogo, and pogo they could – all evening. But I found a whole Ash gig a little like having watched an entire series of Friends in one go: good for a while but becoming increasingly irritating as the minutes tick by. I left the gig (unlike most of the audience, it must be said) without wanting more.