Added on March 27, 2023
2023 , Ash , Brisbane , The Zoo
Ash @ The Zoo, Brisbane, 21.03.2023
For all the times I saw Ash in the late 1990s and early 2000s, I never actually saw them at one of their own shows. I might own some of their albums but I only ever saw them playing at festivals. But what a great little festival band they were. Forty five minutes, an hour, smashing out a dozen or so killer songs. They were always a pretty perfect festival band.
I don’t know why you lose track of bands, sometimes it’s just something that happens. But looking at their discography and album release dates, I realised I lost touch with what Ash were up to partly because of moving to Australia two weeks before they released Meltdown back in 2004.
Almost two decades on and more than that since I last saw them play, it’s scary how little has changed. Tim and Mark still look exactly the same as they did, the only change is that Rick has gone bushranger beard. Tim’s still playing his Flying-V, Mark’s still got his Thunderbird bass low slung and Rick still absolutely pummels his drum kit.
They start with “Goldfinger”, which always was 1977’s most accomplished song, following it with Nu-Clear Sounds‘ “Wild Surf” and the classic movie soundtrack single, “A Life Less Ordinary”. Tim informs us that it’s Mark’s birthday so the band gets a quick respite while the crowd gives him a rendition of Happy Birthday To You before “Oh Yeah”.
Songs from 1977 and Free All Angels are the most represented in the band’s set. I got excited when some pre-show research found their Wikipedia entry listing ex-guitarist Charlotte Hatherley with her previous tenure with the band also having “2022 -” tacked on at the end. Ash back as a four-piece? I was completely unaware that this was a thing. Sadly, her Instagram page and photos from their New Zealand date confirmed that this tour was as a the original three-piece. In advance of the show, I did think that her guitar and vocals did help fill out the sound but watching the show tonight, the band sound thunderous. It all makes sense realising that the only times I’ve seen them has been a festivals when they benefited from an extra guitarist and vocalist to overcome all the sound issues you get playing big outdoor shows, even more so when you haven’t had the benefits of a decent soundcheck.
There’s little time for introductions, not much in the way of talking, just song after song. The hits just keep coming -Ash at their melodic best with the “Walking Barefoot”, “Sometimes”, “Shining Light”, but the band also showing that they can effortlessly switch to hard and heavy with the mighty “Orpheus”. “Confessions in the Pool” and “Buzzkill” from 2018’s Islands, the band’s most recent album show that they haven’t lost their knack for writing melodies. They might not be as well known as the older songs but they still grab the crowd’s attention.
“Did anyone come and see us in 1996? We probably played this,” is a rare introduction from Tim for Trailer‘s “Uncle Pat”, the only song they play from their debut mini-album. Surprisingly “Jack Names the Planet” hasn’t made the cut for the songs being played on these tour dates. After a magnificent-sounding “Angel Interceptor”, there’s an extended “Kung Fu” that finds Mark taking himself and his bass off the stage and into the midst of the crowd. There’s so many phones up in the air recording this, I can’t see exactly what’s happening. If he’s actually on the floor playing, whether it be on his knees or full on his back, he’s a braver man than me; even at the start of the night you couldn’t exactly miss how sticky the Zoo floor is and that undeniable sound of unsticking with each footstep.
After “Girl From Mars” rounds out the main set, there’s a surprise cover of the traditional “Whisky In The Jar” as the first encore. “Do you mind if we do another Irish song?” Tim asks before they start. Given that it came at the expense of some of their own songs, it feels a bit unnecessary and a wasted opportunity. As Tim points out, they started the tour in New Zealand on St Patrick’s Day so maybe it was something they decided to include because of the timing of these shows.
A microphone stand is brought out and placed in front of Mark, ” A special moment, Mark on his birthday wanted to sing you a song,” Tim tells us before Mark launches into the most out of tune starting line of the Carpenters’ “(They Long to Be) Close to You” that you are ever going to hear. “That was beautiful,” Tim jokes. Thankfully the additional microphone is there for the scream introduction to Nu-Clear Sounds‘ “Numbskull” and the alternating scream-offs between the band and the crowd in the middle of the song. Ash aren’t out of hits and they end on a high of “Burn Baby Burn”.
Early in the week shows often seem like a good idea when the tour dates are first announced but then almost always feel like a much more regretful decision on the day of the show and often even at the end of the night. But seeing Ash play 90 minutes on a Tuesday night was just an incredibly invigorating experience and such a fun way to spend the evening. One of those nights, especially post-COVID lockdown times, when you just end up thinking to yourself “I love live music! I should do more of this!” A belated happy 30th birthday to Ash, here’s to many more.
Justin Edwards is a regular contributor to Brisbane's weekly street press magazine, Rave and his photographs have also been published in Rolling Stone, Plan B magazine, Mess+Noise, the Herald-Sun and Blunt, as well as on numerous music and band websites.