by James Wilkes
25 years to the day of the release of the seminal Nowhere, Ride assemble in Liverpool to make some ears bleed once more.
“The only time I saw Ride live first time round was in 1995 and I was 14. I’ve waited 20 years for this. I deserve to be at the front!”
So says the gentleman to my right. The band haven’t even taken to the stage yet and he’s already placed the night on a plinth. He’s not the only one.
Many bands have embarked upon reunion tours over the last few years, and every tour seems to raise questions of whether the bands need the money, or whether they want another shot at being famous. But in the case of Ride, a reunion was never out of the question. They always wanted to play together again. It was a matter of “when”, not “if”.
Formed in Oxford in the summer of 1988, Mark Gardener, Andy Bell, Loz Colbert and Steve Queralt took their love of bands such as My Bloody Valentine, Sonic Youth and The Stone Roses and channelled it into some incredibly noisy, but remarkably catchy music. The press loved them, and along with several other bands from the Thames Valley, they were labelled “shoegaze”. Though later embraced by the fans, this was originally a derogatory term derived from the fact that many of the bands spent most of their gigs staring down at their obscenely large banks of effects pedals.
While they hated the label, Ride soon became one of the quintessential shoegaze bands. Their first three EPs, Ride, Play, and Fall, all reached the UK top 75, the latter two cracking the top 40, and were full of noisy manic songs brimming with feedback, tight melodies, and introspective lyrics.
On the 15th October 1990 they released their debut album Nowhere, a record that mixed their wild, barely-contained noise with some delicate and frequently beautiful songs, made all the more affecting by the careful construction of effects and layers around them. Nowhere has since been recognised as one of the finest debuts ever produced by a UK band. It’s found near the top of quite a few “best albums of all time” lists.
But like all good things it was never meant to last. After releasing their excellent follow up Going Blank Again, grunge and Britpop came to dominate the charts and the interest of the press. Ride found themselves lost in a new scene and tried to forge a new identity, disagreeing over where to go.
Two more albums followed, Carnival of Light – or “Carnival of Shite” as guitarist Andy Bell now calls it – and Tarantula – which is panned by pretty much everyone who ever heard it.
After these two commercial and critical disappointments, the disagreements between certain members of the band came to a head, and Ride eventually imploded. But in the years that followed, there was a distinct thawing of relations. Each member admitted they were partly to blame in the demise of the band, and all stated they were open to getting back together. However, with vocalist Mark Gardener pursuing a solo career, and with Andy Bell becoming a full time member of Oasis and Liam Gallagher’s Beady Eye, the time never seemed right. That was until early 2015 when, following the demise of Beady Eye, Ride suddenly announced their return.
Thus we come to the 15th October 2015, the exact 25th anniversary of Nowhere’s release, and there’s a crowd of people around me patiently anticipating the arrival of the second coming of the Oxford four.
There’s no support act tonight. Instead, Ride are to play two sets, the first of which is to feature classics and fan favourites from the far reaches of the band’s back catalogue. But as we touched upon earlier, the band are not particularly keen of their latter material, so in reality set one is made up of tracks from the early EPs and their second album, Going Blank Again.
Leave Them All Behind opens up the set with its hypnotic bass and synth, before Mark and Andy unmute their tuners and their guitars screech into life. They’re instantly lost in the music, Mark barely able to stand still as he attacks his guitar and forces the noise he’s creating to intertwine with Andy’s feedback. For eight minutes the song pulses in and out of life, achieving stratospheric heights by its conclusion. People around me are grinning from ear to ear as the excitement of the crowd transforms into pure unadulterated joy.
For the rest of the first set, the pace barely lets up. The group thrash through early classic Like A Daydream, allowing it to segue into the more restrained tremolo heavy Unfamiliar as if it’s still 1991 and they haven’t aged a day. Time Machine and Chrome Waves give the crowd a slight breather, allowing everyone to prepare for the rush of fan favourite Twisterella – a powerful masterpiece in which glorious melodies collide with a guitar line harking back to the best jangle pop of the 60s.
The band’s obviously enjoying themselves too: Mark is smiling throughout, Loz is throwing his all into his drums, and Andy is attacking his guitar like a man with no time left to live. The bad blood that may have once existed is completely absent here. Mark’s last minute request of a setlist change is laughed off by Andy – “well, this has got a bit confusing tonight” – with all the grace of an old mate taking the mick. Andy does of course comply with the request to play Time of Her Time, its rush of guitars coming close to pop perfection.
After the beautiful but unbelievably loud Today, Andy tells the crowd they’ll be taking a short intermission before playing Nowhere in its entirety. They close their first set with a chaotic rendition of Mousetrap, departing the stage while a wave of excitement ripples through the crowd once more.
When the stage darkens again the crowd feels primed to explode. Drummer Loz Colbert starts tapping his ride cymbal while Andy creates a tense whirl of feedback. Bassist Steve Queralt sets off a propulsive bass line, and Loz starts beating his bass drum before erupting into a reverb-heavy fill. Mark and Andy let their guitars chime, and the sound twists and turns around Steve’s bass loops and Loz’s frantic drums. This continues for a full minute, the tension rising and rising until Andy and Mark start singing in perfect harmony, the noise cascading around them.
The song is Seagull, the opening track of the classic Nowhere. The crowd behind me are going wild as the song builds and builds, always threatening to fall apart, but all held together by Loz’s incredibly tight rhythm. I’m one of the many younger members of the crowd who never thought they’d get to see this song live, and the rush it sends through us is honestly electrifying.
Next is Kaleidoscope, which had never been played live before this tour. Continuing the frantic pace of Seagull, the song is the sound of Ride in a perfect nutshell: Noisy guitars that constantly sound like they’re on the edge of collapse played at a frenetic speed. But the band barely break a sweat playing such an intense song. They make it look so easy, and they make it sound simply incredible.
The atmospheric, slightly-romantic In A Different Place calms proceedings a little, but it’s followed by Polar Bear, which is perhaps the weirdest song on the whole album. Mark taps a few pedals and his guitar makes a chiming sound that drifts in an out, while Andy masterfully controls waves of feedback with his trusty e-bow. Though something of a noisy mood piece, by the time Loz’s drums kick in, people are dancing to this bizarre cacophony. It’s quite brilliant.
Then comes Dreams Burn Down, the centrepiece of the album and an undisputed shoegaze classic. This slow burner features a searing wash of noise juxtaposed with a chiming lead guitar. Brutal stabs of feedback are unleashed between the delicate verses, allowing it to build until it reaches its wild conclusion. It’s beautiful. I’m not ashamed to admit that it moved me to tears.
Decay and Paralysed always struggled to follow up Dreams Burn Down on record, so it’s no surprise that they feel like something of a come down live. They’re not bad songs by any means. They simply feel comparatively underwhelming following such a bona-fide monumental classic. But then Vapour Trail kicks in, and we’re in “monumental classic” territory once more. With just four simple chords they effortlessly create an uplifting air of optimism. You have a choice with Ride. You can either swoon to the atmosphere or groove to the rhythm. Or both. It’s wonderful.
The LP version of the album finishes here, but in a time when CDs were still more expensive than vinyl, the band added the three remaining tracks from the Fall EP to the end to add a bit more value for money. Seeing as the songs were recorded in the same sessions that resulted in Nowhere, they’ve always felt like part of the album, so they’re duly played tonight.
First we get Taste, a three minute rush of jangly guitars that sends the crowd absolutely mental, with barely a place to stand still down the front. Here and Now maintains the pace but its darker atmosphere sets the mood for the closing title track. Nowhere always sounded like a loose jam on record, but live it’s transformed into an absolutely beast: The bass fuzz resonates as layer upon layer of feedback is piled up, until the group finally unleash the maelstrom they’ve been holding back all night. The ensuing righteous noise is magnificent.
The encore sees the group blast through some early tracks, Drive Blind and Chelsea Girl, the former featuring a section of unrestrained noise to rival My Bloody Valentine’s notorious You Made Me Realise “holocaust”. And that’s our lot. The group say their thanks and depart with huge smiles. They played two fully-loaded sets and an encore, yet the whole thing passed by in a dizzying blur.
There have been many unlikely reunions in recent years, but this felt like one of the most natural and unforced comeback gigs I’ve ever attended.
Worth the wait? It certainly bloody was. Here’s to a gap in the respective schedules of the OX4!
James Wilkes is a sort of scientist who also plays bass. He’s definitely seen more bands than you.