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Shepherd’s Bush Empire

London, United Kingdom

May 28, 1998

Show notes

MTV 5 Night Stand show with Idlewild and Carrie. Two new songs “I’m Gonna Fall” and “Fortune Teller” were debuted for the first time. Several songs had working titles at the time, “Projects” was known as “Pickefoo”, “Wild Surf” as “50’s Song”, “Low Ebb” as “Ebbing Away” while “Jesus Says” was known as “Ditto”.

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Set list

  1. Lose Control
  2. Girl From Mars
  3. A Life Less Ordinary
  4. Projects
  5. Jesus Says
  6. Fortune Teller
  7. I’m Gonna Fall
  8. Low Ebb
  9. Wild Surf
  10. Numbskull
  11. Oh Yeah
  12. Goldfinger

Encore

  1. Petrol
  2. Kung Fu

Review

Playing host to the last gig of MTV’s Five Night Stand, The Empire looks uncomfortably like the TV studio it use to be this evening; one of those big cranes with a camera perched a top it hovers over the audience and a small army of technicians beaver about the stage. Carrie don’t do much to improve the sterile atmosphere.

Playing the sort of tuneful alt-rock that’s been done to death Carrie come and go without making any lasting impression. “Molly” is their sole spiky little song. The rest is unpleasant fluff of the most uninspired kind.

Save for a “secret” (secret, that was, until it was announced on XFM) gig at London’s Camden Barfly the previous night and a couple of one-off shows, Ash haven’t been on-stage for almost a year. A few things become obvious the minute they launch into “Lose Control”. Firstly that Ash look and sound much better as a four-piece. Secondly, that Tim Wheeler has subjected himself to the worst hair cut of all-time.

A typically rousing “Girl From Mars” is next. Then Ash unveil the first of six new songs - “Pickefoo”. With Charlotte Hatherley’s guitar filling out all the uncomfortable spaces that were there when Ash played live as a trio and Wheeler driving it along, “Pickefoo” is more dynamic, a touch harder and very good. “Ditto” the as yet untitled one which is likely to be their next single. Of the others, “50’s Song” and “I’m Gonna Fall” are both ballads, the latter making by far the best first impression. But it’s “Low Ebb” and “Numbskull” that most people will go home talking about: all hulking riffs and big, bloody-minded grooves, they are the “Innocent Smile” side of Ash pushed to its logical limits - and frankly, they’re great.

As is the rest of the set: “Oh Yeah”, “A Life less Ordinary”, “Goldfinger”, “Petrol”, and finally a chaotic “Kung Fu”, which see’s the until now relatively restrained Mark Hamilton once more lurching around like a crazed ostrich. Wheeler fails to round off the whole thing by goose-stepping off-stage, but otherwise Ash come back with a bang.

High Point: Ash’s “Numbskull” complete with trainee Tom Araya scream from Tim Wheeler

Low Point: The Wheeler hair, a thing of abject horror.

Verdict: Come back bigger, better and brighter

Rating: 4/5

From Kerrang magazine

Review 2

It hits you the instant you walk in: the sickening stench of youth. Audiences never look this good - so fresh-faced, so healthy, so irritatingly full of life. But then, bands generally attract the kind of fans they deserve. Oasis tempt monkey-faced pissed blokes and your dad, and Ash lure shiny, happy teenagers, brimming with optimism, with everything to live for.

Of course, there are older people here (mainly the ones that work for MTV, here filming tonight’s gig), a few scattered groups of saggy-fleshed elders attempting to mingle, but that’s the real beauty of a band like Ash. Not only do they appeal to kids who can easily relate to songs about first love while pogoing like inflatables and drinking too much cider, but also to grown ups that desperately want to remember what that was like.

Tonight, though, even the fans are trying to remember what it’s like. Ash haven’t played a London gig for almost a year and it’s a different line-up now. Last summer, they took in an extra member, a guitarist called Charlotte. A girl. Ash was no place for a young girl to be. It was all wrong. For one, she wasn’t from Belfast and secondly, she didn’t spend her early teens wearing Iron Maiden T-shirts, worshipping Phil Lynott and picking on a geeky kid called Rick for wearing cowboy boots to school. The dynamic was working fine without her. Tim delighted us with lyrical tales of alien ex-girlfriends, summer romances and pool games with Jackie Chan, Mark sorted out the visual energy and Rick did showmanship. What could she offer? As it goes, an awful lot. It seems you never know what you’re missing, until you get it.

Introducing a second guitarist was a shrewd bit of foresight: how much longer could Ash go on being the alcopops of rock - the bit of harmless fun kids try before hitting the hard stuff? Why not try providing the hard stuff, too? Get to the, er bar first, as it were.

So Ash walk on tonight with a few surprises in store. Two hours earlier, Tim decided to get a new look (when Rick saw him he had to have a sit down). It’s his hair, see - it’s very short and there’s a shaved bit along one side. It looks like he’s had a lobotomy and will be badly very copied over the next few months. But we’re not here for hair and we settle down (ie start jumping around like idiots) as they begin mixing vivacious pop simply with prime-rock proficiency, kicking off with “Lose Control” and “Girl From Mars”, before alternating the new songs. There’s no shifting uneasily between the two, either, although the new songs reveal a markedly different sound - intricately surfaced and melodically smart. After straddling the vast gorge between pop simplicity and crass metal temerity, Ash finally fell in - and it didn’t hurt at all. In fact, it’s as much fun as you’d expect from a band who trade not of miserabilism and third generation punk, but off their obsession with Star Wars and crap Eighties heavy metal.

There’s a slight subsidence in momentum mid-way through “I’m Gonna Fall”, but it’s more stunned gasps that Ash have the confidence to throw in the slowest of ballads, always difficult to grasp unless you know all the words. Soon my friends. A bit of “Petrol” and the traditional finale, “Kung Fu” and it’s all over.

It’s still a straight up musical performance with none of the frills, but it’s all different, now . They’ve worn frocks and make-up and fancy dress costumes and even their school uniforms, but then hey, even Ash are too old for that now.

Gina Morris - Melody Maker

Review 3

Stuck in the strange machinations of the pop world, a life less ordinary is less a song title than a dead cert. One week Ash are onstage in Northern Ireland with David Trimble and John Hume urging people to give peace a chance, the next they’re urging us to, well watch more telly. The path of pop righteousness is slippery indeed.

Beamed out as the climatic shag of MTV’s week long residence in west London, Ash have decided the only response to such good/evil dichotomies is to ignore the fact that their every move is being tracked by cameras and play with the tune-mangling frenzy normally reserved for a fan club only gig.

On the surface this is business as usual: Mark lurches around his bass, Rick whirls over his drumkit with speccy intensity and Charlotte could give Zia Dandy Warhol lessons in deadpan cool, but there are signs of Ash maturing. Which could explain Tim Wheeler’s new haircut. Gone are the flowing locks and in their place is something that has a savagely shaved parting and looks more recent-lobotomy than cover-of-pop-mag. It’s a haircut that screams, “Please don’t call me teen totty.”

It’s the most obvious of the changes that Ash have undergone as they’ve belly-flopped into their early 20s. But fortunately they’ve grasped the fact that you can progress without donning slippers and wallowing in a mid-life crisis. So they still attack “Girl From Mars”, “Goldfinger” and “Kung Fu” with more scattershot relish than a hotdog stand. It’s just that these songs are now toughened up, their edges rubbed into corrugated noise. These days Ash seem more interested into cataloguing the weird sounds Tim’s flying V makes when systematically beaten than simply chronicling the first ecstatic rush of either being in love or in a band.

It’s a trick that’s coming to fruition in the new songs. Two are untitled and sound alternately like stiff little fingers gone art-school weird and the Mary Chain at the heart of their surf -rock fixation. But both have a tune that would make either of those bands weep. Then there’s “Wild Surf”, which swivels it’s hips like a man in tight leather trousers, while “Low Ebb” is so languid it makes “Oh Yeah” sound like a tantrum and proves you can sing, “Feels like your life is slipping away” without flagellating yourself to prove you bleed passion. But that’s nothing compared with “I’m Gonna Fall”, possessed of a metronomic beat, a dose of country psychedelia and the essence of Super Furry Animals gone cherubic.

It’s a step towards the weird, while still being recognisable as the Ash who sprint through “Petrol” with ferocious melody. They are still thrillingly pop, but the fact remains they’re growing up. Don’t be afraid though, they’re doing it in style.

Jim Alexander - NME