Kids 'from Mars' party like it's '1977'

Irish rockers seeking world domination, ready to detonate

Any band that can count both Dave Grohl and his mom among they fans must have major crossover appeal. That holds true for veteran Irish rockers Ash, except when it comes to crossing over oceans.

Ash, around since the early '90s, have consistently delivered fresh and solid material, yet have not become U.S. chart or radio mainstays. The band will pin its hopes on "Meltdown," last week's release on the Record Collection label. But will it garner the attention it seeks?

"I wish. We'll wait and see," frontman Tim Wheeler said Thursday before the band's sold-out gig in support of the Bravery and "Meltdown" at D.C.'s Black Cat. "It's definitely a more accessible sound for Americans I think."

Wheeler credits working with American producer Nick Raskulinecz for that "more accessible sound," which includes breezy choruses, a hint of metal influence and bombastic, cascading solos throughout. Raskulinecz has worked with the Foo Fighters and System of a Down.

On previous albums, producer Owen Morris, who has worked with Oasis and New Order, restrained the band from indulging too much, according to drummer Rick McMurrary.

"But Nick let our metal tendencies run wild," he said.

While bands like the Beach Boys are a big melodic influence and spending time in California has contributed to Ash's sometimes syrupy sound, the California pop influence is more theory than reality.

"Summer's a big deal when it comes around [in Ireland]," Wheeler said. "If you have a short summer, you cherish it more."

In fact, "Walking Barefoot," from 2002's "Free All Angels," was written from a beach in North Dublin, not the sandy California beach its rhythm might suggest.

The new album almost didn't see a U.S. release - its label went bankrupt - until Record Collection picked it up. To sweeten the deal, the U.S. release includes three bonus tracks and a bonus DVD.

"It's happened to us a few times," said McMurray about release problems. "It's a bit of a pain in the ass."

Wheeler agreed the setbacks can be disappointing.

"We sort of lose momentum a bit."

Ash routinely plays to packed stadiums across Europe and did so last year in support of the Darkness and at the Reading Festival.

Ash headlined University College Dublin's "Fresher's Ball" late last year. Ticket-holders were turned away due to overcrowding, forcing the band to finish early.

The experience was both "mad" and "a bit of a disaster too," Wheeler said.

So it's not surprising Ash finds playing smaller venues in the United States to be a welcomed change of pace.

"When you play the small venues, you have the benefit of getting right up in the faces of everyone," McMurray said.

The Show

Considering Ash named their now classic album "1977" partly because it was the year "Star Wars" was released (an obsession shared by the band), it wasn't surprising to hear a remix of the movie's universal theme before Ash took the stage.

After a robotic countdown with flashing stage lights, the three Irish lads (and girl) bounded on stage and boldly opened with title track "Meltdown."

They never let up. While focusing on new material, Wheeler and company tossed out "Goldfinger" and "Girl From Mars," both from "1977," to the hard-line Ash fans.

Bassist Mark Hamilton had his game face on and barely cracked a smile while Wheeler got through the perfunctory introductions and thank yous. But the band seemed genuinely happy to be in D.C. on the second night of its tour, and the audience seemed happy to have it.

Ash lacked the inherent pretentiousness of today's Brit-pop and cocky swagger of the Brit-pop of yesteryear. Instead they were courteous and let their guitars do the talking.

The stage at Black Cat might have been cramped, but if "Meltdown" and Ash's live show are any indication, this band is ready to soar to new heights yet unseen in the States.

Ash is in Austin, Texas, today, St. Patrick's Day, performing at the SXSW music festival. How will they celebrate the holiday? Not, one would hope, like last year, which saw Hamilton, whose birthday also occurs in mid-March, face down in a bucket in Spain, Wheeler said.

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