Ash in The Olympia Theatre, Dublin, on December 15th 2015
“Is anyone out there as excited as Mark Hamilton about Star Wars?” Tim Wheeler asks the crowd on the eve of the release of the latest instalment of George Lucas’ all-conquering space saga. It’s a film that left an indelible mark on three young lads from Downpatrick, and almost twenty years after the roar of a TIE fighter opened their debut album, ‘1977’, the power trio still look as fresh as the teenagers that made it. They’ve been quiet on the album front for the guts of a decade now, favouring a more guerrilla style approach in their reverence of the ‘single’ as a medium, but this year’s largely onomatopoeic ‘Kablammo!’ saw Ash return to the Long Player format in typically forthright fashion.
“We’ve had some crazy nights recently in Whelan’s but this is a step up” Wheeler announces, and he isn’t joking. The band’s last two visits to the Wexford Street venue have been loud, sweaty, packed and – did we mention loud – the most fun of the gig-going calendar year, so the “step up” to The Olympia stage seems an interesting prospect in comparison. Wheeler and bassist Hamilton seem to be enjoying the wider expanse it affords, meandering back and forth in front of Rick McMurray’s drum riser, with Hamilton pulling out all the rock’n’roll moves you can imagine – feet up on monitors, lunges, bass-wrangling antics, getting into the crowd during Angel Interceptor (“How we sounding Mark, are we sounding good?“) His colleague isn’t far behind, with the odd arm windmill and trademark Flying V raised above his head in a victory stance…never has a man looked so pleased to be playing a guitar solo as Tim Wheeler does.
He punctuates each of the opening chords of Let’s Ride with a point to the crowd, then leading them in a textbook bit of call-and-response in the breakdown of Kung Fu. A false ending to Oh Yeah lets the venue take the coda for themselves, singing back as Wheeler plays gently. His and Emmy The Great’s Zombie Christmas starts some seasonal silliness, and a peppy cover of The Undertones’ Teenage Kicks sees the stage invaded by the two support bands, lending a touch of pantomime to the whole affair.
“Right, shall we continue with the rock concert?” Wheeler asks, and the peerless power pop of Girl From Mars rounds things off in a rock-out finale, Hamilton’s bass propped on bent knee, angled to roof. Cantina Band from Star Wars continues the silliness, and Uncle Pat wins out in a crowd vote over Petrol. Wheeler invites both crowd and support acts back onstage for the finale, an invitation not taken up by the front rows, inexplicably – bouncer intervention, we can only assume. An Ash gig is never less than a celebratory experience, especially considering the back catalogue they now have to draw from. Maybe it’s not as much of a raucous punk gig as those in Whelan’s, but the ‘Kablammo!’ track that opens the set sums up their live approach, whatever the venue – Go! Fight! Win!