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'If you didn't know Ash's music, you would think they seemed nervous, their playing taut and edgy, Wheeler wobbling in all the wrong places. But that's the way they are'
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The Independent Culture
Ash

LA2, London

Ryan Gilbey

's pretty-boy frontman Tim Wheeler appeared without his band- mates for an encore, but he brought with him a ransom demand. "The others aren't coming back on stage unless you all go out and buy the Oasis single tomorrow." He wasn't joking, either. Nor were the audience, who responded with pantomime boos. Appropriate, really, as most of them looked young enough to be excited by a trip to Clacton Pier for Roger De Courcey and Nooky Bear in Cinderella.

That includes the band. While other rock stars fret about mid-week chart placings, Wheeler and his two Belfast pals were biting their nails to the bone over their impending A-level results. They even turned down a tour with Pearl Jam because they were studying for those exams (and also because Pearl Jam are crap, Wheeler has insisted, muddying his scholarly image with a bit of good old-fashioned rock 'n' roll arrogance).

You're used to a band playing to an audience of 's generation. What's more unusual, at least since the reign of the Mini Pops ended, is when neither party has started shaving yet. The music takes 10 years off the listener, too, though this has bizarre implications for all the 14-year- olds in the audience.

Wheeler must only have endorsed Oasis because, like everyone else here, he had gawped at Liam Gallagher loitering at the bar (Chris Evans was there, too, though we were spared an Evans vs Tarrant ultimatum - now that would have been tough). Or maybe he was playing devil's advocate after spotting, as anyone could, that the majority of the crowd were Blur fans by the way they shook their thangs.

Yes, those wacky kids were practising the dance craze that's sweeping the nation (or at least London's sweaty little indie dancefloors). It involves jumping up and down on the spot and should, after tonight, be re-christened the dance. Indistinguishable, I'll grant you, from the Menswear dance or the Elastica dance. But with one crucial difference: the music you're moving to. employ their influences as trampolines, not anchors.

Which means they bounce higher, and so do you. The ones that everybody has come to slam to - including the lithe punk nursery-rhyme "Jack Names the Planets" which opens the show - are dispensed with quickly and efficiently.

If you didn't know their music, you would think they seemed nervous, their playing taut and edgy, Wheeler wobbling in all the wrong places. But that's the way they are. The glittering "Girl from Mars", fresh from a recent unexpected brush with the Top 10, wouldn't sound quite so fragile if his voice didn't tremble like a tightrope-walker at that crucial moment when the guitars simmer down and everlasting love for the eponymous extra- terrestrial female is declared (oh shut up at the back will you, this is pop music).

The show barely scrapes the 40-minute mark, but in that time cover a lot of ground. There's the reckless Black Flag assault of "Intense Thing"; their Who moment, "Uncle Pat", a melancholy lament you can shatter your rib-cage to; and all rounded off with "Kung Fu" and "Punkboy", two of those frenzied mad-dash-for-the-touchline pop anthems that Wheeler is fast proving himself to be peerless at writing. There was an instrumental, too, which had enough front-row faces eyeing him expectantly to prompt a mid-song disclaimer to excuse him from singing. "This is an instrumental," he declared, and that was that.

Kids who would have to be up the next morning for paper rounds reeled out on to Charing Cross Road with the dazed, awe-struck expression of survivors tugged free from earthquake rubble. They had fallen deep under 's spell. But not deep enough to succumb to Wheeler's blackmail: Blur were number one come Sunday.

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