Ash Mod Club, Toronto ON, October 1

Ash Mod Club, Toronto ON, October 1
Photo: Stephen McGill
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Ash always felt like an outlier among Britpop acts, probably because their music tended to reflect North American tastes as much as UK ones. That was particularly true on their debut proper, 1977 — and the band are currently celebrating its 20th anniversary with a full-album tour. The record's mix of punk rock barnburners and mid-tempo alt-rock overshadow the presence of Oasis producer Owen Morris, which was immediately evident when the Irish trio launched into the opening crescendo riff of "Lose Control" at the Mod Club Saturday night (September 30).
 
No tie fighters introduced the band, but the Star Wars reference on bass player Mark Hamilton's t-shirt belied any thoughts that the band's cinematic tastes had matured since their teen years.
 
Playing the record front to back left little room for surprises, and made for bizarre song placements in the set. Hearing "Goldfinger" and "Girl From Mars" back-to-back as the second and third songs suggested that the set may have peaked early. But where the hits that continue to make regular appearances in the band's usual set lists came across with a polish that belied their age, deep cuts like "I'd Give You Anything" and "Let it Flow" maintained the thrashy energy that ensures their recorded versions sound so vital today.
 
"Angel Interceptor" was the most drastically altered number, its complicated vocal intro played on guitar instead (and no, they didn't attempt to recreate hidden track "Sick Party"). But as the last notes of "Darkside Lightside" faded, a sense of anticipation finally began to creep in. What would come next?
 
Singer-guitarist Tim Wheeler, polite but short for words up to this point appeared to relish in the mystery as much as the crowd did. He introduced "Jack Names the Planets," a pregap hidden track on early versions of the album, then asked if the crowd was ready for some real deep cuts, before diving into some era-specific material including "Goldfinger" B-side "Sneaker," "Oh Yeah" B-side "T. Rex" and a cover of Abba's "Does Your Mother Know." They finished the main part of the set with "A Life Less Ordinary," a highlight that appeared in the forgotten Danny Boyle film of the same name.
 
The group returned for a four-song encore that skipped out on the throwback-heavy nature of the rest of the show, delivering riff-crazy "Orpheus" and "Let's Ride from last year's Kablammo! Wheeler even promised new material next year (the night's only real nod to the present or future), then finished with crowd favourites "Shining Light" and "Burn Baby Burn."

The room was drenched in nostalgia, but it never felt like Ash were pandering. Even if the night's first half was a little short on surprises, this victory lap was well earned and they know it.