Ash @ The Echo (1/31) & The Casbah (2/1)

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The musical galaxy abhors a vacuum…or at least it should. In a year when the nominees for Best Rock Grammies included Led Zeppelin, Paul McCartney, Black Sabbath, David Bowie, and Neil Young, it is flagrantly apparent that the world of rock and roll has become an empty relic of a forgotten time, a wasteland of zombies desperately grasping for a young collaborator to keep them going for another year. The offerings of the young ones, too, are vapid and devoid of any substance or nourishment. But, on the desolate plains of the sonic frontiers, a trio of renegade rock and roll warriors battle the inertia of the dying old guard. Themselves a long-established group, they continue to transform, to shape-shift to evade the ossification of trends. They are Ash, and they have answered the call and returned to America to revivify rock and roll!

After almost a decade-long absence, Ash made their triumphant return to the West Coast last week. Playing a handful of shows down the coast and across the South before meeting up with compatriots Weezer, Ash are swooping through to remind the world that they are a force to be reckoned with. This lucky disciple was fortunate enough to experience two mind-blowing, soul-transforming shows at The Echo in Los Angeles and at The Casbah in San Diego:

Friday, the sold-out Echo was brimming, the energy palpable as we stood impatiently through openers Dreamland and Deaf Havana. Both acts are fun and enthusiastic, but c’mon, we’ve waited over nine years for this moment. And then Ash take the stage. Opening number “Meltdown” makes clear the band’s mission: “We’re here to fight in a sonic nation/leave all the fakers and the liars behind/you want to meet us in a confrontation/our psychic weapons will destroy your minds!” They rip through classic after classic, “A Life Less Ordinary,” “Girl From Mars,” “Oh Yeah,” “Goldfinger,” “Walking Barefoot,” “Shinging Light.” Each song demands yard-high pogoing and vigorous fist pumping.

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In addition to sounding massive, the trio look fucking awesome! Years of playing have sculpted their archetypal forms. Onstage Mark appears ten feet tall, like The Hulk, thrusting and swinging his enormous Thunderbird bass aloft as he crushes boulders into the epic chorus of “Evil Eye.” Tim is The Silver Surfer, shredding down a giant wave of wah that jets in torrents from his flying-v guitar. And Rick is Beast on drums, concentrated and thoughtful as he annihilates the snare on “Lose Control.”

The Echo show was brilliant, a perfect spark to reignite the Ash flame, but The Casbah show in San Diego the following night was hands down the ultimate Ash experience. Bringing their epic-sized show to a bar even smaller than The Echo, Ash treated an elite class of fans to an even more impassioned, celebratory, yet more intimate-feeling set, which included newer song “Binary” (first time played on tour) and the always glorious “Angel Interceptor.” Unlike the Echo show, which seemed to have a large percentage of new initiates, this was a show for the die-hards. We all pogoed, moshed, and cheered our way through an incredible night of music. The lads stuck around after the show to chat, take pictures, sign autographs–the appreciation ever reciprocal between band and fans.

Now that Ash are a self-contained unit, no longer beholden to the whims of the clueless labels of The Empire, they are free to unleash their new material on the hungry masses. Fingers crossed that we get another album and tour by this year’s end. As Tim proclaimed in the epic closer “Twilight of the Innocents”: “I’m still breathing, my heart’s still beating.” The force is strong as ever in these rock and roll animals, and we would be wise to heed their path to breathe life back into rock music.

Nick Cullen

Photos by Ye Rin Mok

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