Ash at King’s College, London

ASH HAVE BEEN rock stars for 12 years and four albums, yet, as singer Tim Wheeler has noted, they’re still younger than some of the Kaiser Chiefs. They look it, too. Who would have thought that recently losing a quarter of their work force – guitarist Charlotte Hatherley – would be so revitalising? Playing their first London show as a trio since 1997, they were rock-loads of raucous fun.

Presented with the band at unusually close quarters (a tour of bigger venues will follow this summer), it is impossible not to admire their gusto; they zap through decade-old songs with the same crackling energy that they do tracks from the forthcoming fifth album. Life as a stripped-down power trio suits them, but it also exposes the flaw that has consigned them to perpetual “pretty good” status: nothing in their catalogue matches the songs they wrote at 17.

The heady Britpop-era blasts of ‘Goldfinger’, ‘Girl from Mars’ and ‘Oh Yeah’ have the unfortunate effect of making you wish there were a lot more where those came from. The problem is that there aren’t. Those happy accidents of power chords and teen-angst choruses are the blazing highlights of the show, whereas the more recent ‘Orpheus’ and ‘Renegade Cavalcade’ are mostly notable for Wheeler’s axe-hero vamping. I suppose, given a guitar and a baying crowd, anybody would automatically splay their legs and scrunch up their face, but why does it always look as if they need to go to the loo?

Then again, the brand new finale ‘In Hell’, a veritable suite with several movements and accompanying purple lights, suggests that this could be the year Ash acquire Muse-like sophistication.

© Caroline SullivanThe Guardian, 2013

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