Review: Ash Astoria, London

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The Independent Culture
When you arrive at an Ash gig, you will feel five times your age. You will have the sensation that you are there to collect your grandchildren. You may experience the urge to wade into the thrashing mosh-pit and sort everybody out into orderly boy/ girl lines. Every time you pass the bar, you will notice some pasty-faced falsetto-voiced tyke trying to convince the barmaid that, yes, he is 18, only he's left his driving licence at home, and please can he just have half a cider?

Compared to their fans, Ash are getting on a bit. (It's even been rumoured that one of them has hit 20!) But significantly, there is no longer any need to preface an appraisal of them with an acknowledgement of their tender years. They are not dazzling for their age - they're just dazzling. They are not one of the most invigorating young bands around they're just invigorating. Get the picture. Ash have proved themselves in the grown- up world. They haven't noticeably changed or progressed since I first saw them two years ago; they're still steaming through most of the same songs at the same breakneck speed with the same unfaltering grasp of pop dynamics. As a live band, they are ruthless and uncomplicated. Mark Hamilton plays at being a bass hero, in the fashion of New Order's Peter Hook. Chief songwriter Tim Wheeler chisels away diligently at his guitar. And drummer Rick McMurray is wearing a tiara. Enough said.

Two years ago, Ash were heralded as indie heroes for having rejected a support slot with Pearl Jam. This time around, it's U2 who have had their invitation to the prom rebuffed. So why does everybody want to have Ash's babies? The spurned Bono may have the answer. In a recent interview, he noted that there's something in the songs that suggests that these three Irish lads are "smarter than your average bear". You can see what he means. Ash gigs are funny, frivolous, reckless affairs in which the audience are more concerned with themselves than the music. Stray bodies emerge from the depths of the pogo-ing throng, trainer-less and marinated in other people's bodily fluids, to be embraced and congratulated by friends who had assumed they were lost forever - if Wilfred Owen were alive today, there's no doubt he'd be chronicling life in the trenches at a rock gig.

But when you actually listen to Ash, you can detect a strain of pop songwriting that would knock Brian Wilson off his surfboard, if he still went surfing. It's there in the rumbling, seismic momentum of "Goldfinger", and the swooning, sun-kissed "Oh Yeah", a love song that isn't embarrassed about its own delirious lack of irony. When Ash plough into Abba's "Does Your Mother Know?" in the encore, it's not because they think it's camp or tacky; it's because they know it's a cool song. They end with their most throwaway number, "Kung Fu", specially extending the drum break so that everyone gets a chance at popping the balloons that have been dropped into the crowd to much "ooohing" and "aahing".

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