@ Leeds University
Tim Wheeler, earlier in the evening, had promised some scary Halloween touches to the evening so, it wasn’t a surprise to see a set of bare autumnal trees and Mark touting a pumpkin lantern onstage. Tim’s mixtape of spooky-themed records had filled the inter-band space. Apart from that it was business as usual – a hour and a half of speedy-paced rock. Now, Tim’s not afraid of the term ‘pop’ and just as well, the big strength of Ash is the monster size hooks to the songs, the rock is just the bluster with which the songs are delivered. Things have taken a harder turn since Meltdown and here, in their first visit to Leeds as a three-piece, they are a stripped to basics crew.
Mark, on bass, is kohl-eyeshadowed and the smoke adds to the Halloween theme. The energy is tangible as the band sets its manifesto with an onslaught of three new-ish songs off the last two albums before dropping back a couple of albums to Shining Star and back to the basement for Jack Names The Planets. They acknowledge the history to this number with a slow intro and build up to the big tune. Now everyone is happy and things start moving. Up to then it’s been fast paced but lacking in dynamics. The last time I saw this band was viscerally thrilling and this time seems flatter and I blame it on the more full-frontal attack and lack of ‘colour’ created by losing a guitar. Charlotte didn’t just pretty-up the stage, she freed up Tim to play more lead lines and big-up the melody, which is, after all the bit that gets wedged in our head as earworms. Tim, Mark and Rick are spread across the stage, filling the space in a blur of constant motion. Songs like Meltdown’s ‘Clones’ become rock onslaughts that a different band could do better. Ash aren’t playing to their strengths.
Newer pieces like I Started A Fire butt up against Goldfinger with the usual speed and bluster. Walking Barefoot sees the lights turned on and the chorus is carried by the crowd. Evil Eye is touted as a Halloween song and an obscure B-side ups the Haloween ante in the encore. There is a momentum lacking in the band but the fancy lights keep energy levels up before Kung Fu gets an extended workout as it is broken down into it’s components and re-assembled. When Oh Yeah! gets outed I realise that Free All Angels is starting to seem to be the unannounced greatest hits album. With the lights on and much singing and pointing in the air, Girl From Mars appears to mark the ascent to the frenzy of an end-of-set series but, no, they end the main set with the strange cyclic heartbeats of intense single, Twilight Of The Innocents.
All that remains is an encore and it’s a long, long set. The hits have been played and fan delighted with an obscure b-side, not played in ages. Me, I’m a bit disappointed and hoping the band, who keep experimenting, choose to augment the band for the next live outing and play to their strengths. The only sure thing is that Tim Wheeler will keep tweaking and changing things bit by bit, so who knows what they’ll have on offer….