Tramshed, Cardiff, Sat 1 Sept
Asked to name the most famous and influential band ever to come out of Oxford, few would respond with anything other than “Radiohead” – yet Radiohead themselves looked up to a fellow local group, at least in their early days. As part of the short-lived and unlikely Thames Valley scene, along with the likes of Slowdive, Chapterhouse and Lush, Ride swiftly became synonymous with shoegaze, the UK’s pre-Britpop riposte to grunge. Their first two LPs, Nowhere and Going Blank Again, established a blueprint copied by countless others, but their subsequent demise was messy: childish acrimony between chief songwriters Mark Gardener and Andy Bell, and two albums that justifiably bombed, Carnival Of Light and Tarantula.
While estimation of those early records grew in the years after Ride split, the band’s overall critical reputation seemed to have been scarred permanently – something that was hardly helped by Bell’s post-Ride exploits with Hurricane #1 and as a member of Gay Dad, Oasis and Beady Eye. But, having reformed in 2014, the quartet have released a new LP, Weather Diaries, the positive reception for which suggests that redemption may yet be forthcoming.
Tonight, there is really only one way to start: Lannoy Point, the comeback album’s opening track, which sets the tone for the rest of Weather Diaries and features Gardener and Bell in heartening harmony. Seagull, Nowhere’s lead song, makes a very early appearance, the rapturous crowd reaction prompting Bell to respond with a smirking “Thank you and goodnight,” but it’s outshone by the understated slow-burn of the new LP’s title track which follows.
While bassist Steve Queralt appears to be immune to the ageing process, Gardener’s trademark floppy fringe is long gone. His vocals, like those of Bell, are largely lost in the mix – not necessarily a bad thing, given the frequent clunkiness of his lyrics in the past, but Weather Diaries marks a more direct engagement with contemporary politics than their previous records, so it’s a shame that deciphering his words is a challenge.
It takes courage to drop your best song (Leave Them All Behind) in the middle of the set, but for me it’s otherwise all a bit safe, a bit 90s-indie-disco-in-student-union-bar. Too often they give off a dated Stone Roses/Charlatans vibe (Twisterella in particular) when I’m hankering for the guitars to really open up and floor me. Perhaps it’s missing the point to compare Ride unfavourably to My Bloody Valentine, as I find myself doing – after all, they’ve never really sought to push the experimental envelope in that way, preferring to mitigate their noisier moments with pop-friendly melodies and hooks. That personal gripe aside, though, there does also seem to be something slightly perfunctory about tonight’s show, which suggests that they may have work to do to ensure their continued appeal as a live act and relevance as a creative force.
words BEN WOOLHEAD photos SIMON AYRE