The Mark of Excellence

Ash / Kestrels

Lee's Palace, Toronto, ON, November 17

> > Nov 18 2012

Ash / Kestrels - Lee's Palace, Toronto, ON, November 17
Photo: Cam Lindsay
By Cam LindsayFull disclosure: I was obsessed with Northern Ireland's Ash between the years of 1994 and 2005. So seeing them for their 20th anniversary carried quite a bit of nostalgia. But as they proved with their first Toronto gig in seven years, Ash are still going strong after two decades.

Halifax's Kestrels opened the show with a noise-driven set showcasing their recent debut album, A Ghost History (which features a contribution by Ash frontman Tim Wheeler). True shoegazers at heart, the trio packed the same kind if wah-heavy wallop as forefathers Dinosaur Jr. and Swervedriver, managing to keep the melodies intact and punchy above the cascading wall of noise. If this were 1992, they'd be the toast of their hometown alongside Sloan.

Back to a three-piece, Ash hit the stage and blasted longtime opener "Lose Control" with the same heft as when they were 18-year-olds. Graciously apologizing for their lengthy absence, the fully bearded Wheeler still held his boyish complexion, especially during a fired-up run-through of debut single, "Jack Names the Planets," which they wrote at 15. Knowing their audience — which included a large troop of merry Irish folk — was likely expecting a "play the hits" deal, Ash delivered in full.

Six of the 19 songs were lifted from their UK No. 1 album 1977, and songs like "Goldfinger," "Oh Yeah" and the eternally rambunctious "Kung Fu" still hold up, especially in light of noisy guitar bands like Yuck, Wavves and the Pains of Being Pure at Heart ushering in a new generation of that sound. Other favourites like the inspiring "Shining Light," the muscular "Orpheus" and the Danny Boyle-commissioned "A Life Less Ordinary" reminded many that Ash were a hit-making machine.

But it wasn't just about playing the oldies. Though only a handful of fans were familiar with their most recent work, a 26-single series titled A to Z, Ash slipped four into the set to a strong reception, the most notable being "Arcadia" and "Joy Kicks Darkness."

Closing off with the blistering staple "Burn Baby Burn," the "three boy hardcore action" might now have entered a mature state, but age ain't nothin' but a number to Wheeler, bassist Mark Hamilton and drummer Rick McMurray. Their solidarity and ability to put on a thrilling rock show demonstrates that they haven't missed a step after all these years. The fact that they can also throw in some "new ones" that preserve their original vision means Ash could be sitting pretty when that 30th anniversary comes rolling around.

Let's hope we don't have to wait until then to see them again, though.
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