The Foundry, Sheffield
Saturday, March 3
Since bursting on the scene more than a decade ago, Ash have now gone full circle. Guitar vixen Charlotte Hatherley, who had been in the band for ten years, left to pursue her solo career, leaving Tim Wheeler and his childhood friends to concentrate on album number 5. This appropriately titled Higher Education Tour on university venues is an opportunity for the group to preview the new material.
"Lose Yourself" opens the set before the band go about dispelling any fears of not being able to cope without a second guitarist. With the minor backing track help, "Burn Baby Burn", "Orpheus", "A Life Less Ordinary" and "Renegade Cavalcade" are all faultless and certainly don't lose any of their impact. The likes of "Goldfinger" and "Girl From Mars" were originally performed by a three-piece anyway, so no worries about trouble performing them, and their energy is returned by a hectic crowd who are glad to see the return of their Irish heroes.
So what of the songs that will appear of the next record? You'd be forgiven for thinking Ash would strip their sound down, but they've done the complete opposite and no more so than on "The Boy Who Lived In Hell". Bigger and more epic than anything the band has previously attempted, it is stunning and painfully honest about the loss of someone - a theme also found in the rocky "I Started A Fire" and comeback single "You Can't Have It All". Picking up where "Starcrossed" and "Shining Light" - the only glaring omission from the night's set - left off, "Polaris" shows that Wheeler can still knock out a decent power ballad. The classic pop-punk of "Kung Fu" ends the night in as energetic manner as possible, but there's certainly no need for the band to rely on their old hits, as on this display the future is as bright as ever for the threesome.