Ash Wednesday, 1977
God I love rock ‘n roll.
On any given day, there are thousands of bands playing live in all the towns, cities, and countries of the world. One of them is giving the performance of a lifetime, and is, at least on that one day, the best live band in the world. You don’t often get to experience such a live performance, and when you do, it is magical. Last Wednesday night at the Foundry in Philly, Ash was the best live band in the world.
I went to the show not in the best frame of mind. I’ve been working like a dog lately, and been frustrated as the devil with it. I hadn’t had more than 5 hours sleep in about two weeks. I was happy for the diversion, but exhausted, and the thought of going home and straight to sleep was compelling. But that would have been a stupid idea. Rather than swirl more about work in my head, I got to go see live rock ‘n roll.
The show was at the Foundry, a new place connected with Live Nation’s large Fillmore in Philly. To be exact, the Fillmore is in Fishtown, a hip but ugly and semi-dangerous neighborhood north of Center City, and is located almost directly under I-95. Yum. It’s also a pain to get there from the Main Line, and in order to feel like your car will still be there when you return for it, you have to pay to park – sometimes $20, but on this night, only $9. Anyway, the Foundry is Live Nation’s smaller “club within a club,” and maybe holds 300 people in a concrete paradise. But on Wednesday, there were far fewer people at the club; my guess would be about 100 people. Awful for the band, of course, but great for those of us smart enough to show up.
A Wilco-wannabe band opened up to about 30 people. I don’t remember the band’s name, which is lucky for them. Their first song wasn’t bad, but it was their best song, and I was glad to see them leave after their obligatory 30 minutes. Then we had to do the obligatory stand around for 30 minutes and watch the next band’s road crew get set up. Now, the Foundry is brand new, but apparently, Live Nation didn’t think that the bands that play there deserve a dressing room. Instead, they get a cheesy curtained off area at the back of the club, so we watched as the single roadie for Ash went back and forth across the room to discuss issues with the band, who were chilling out behind their curtain. Finally, it was show time.
Now, if you know Ash, you realize that they have two tremendous albums, 1977, which New Music Express named one of the top 500 albums of all time, and Free All Angels. One song from 1977, Kung Fu, was used on the outtakes trailer for Jackie Chan’s film Rumble In The Bronx, and that is worth checking out both for the song and Chan’s stunts. The band is a trio, led by Tim Wheeler on guitar/vocals, Mark Hamilton on bass and Rick McMurray on drums, and like a lot of trios, it’s amazing how much layered sound can come out of three guys.
Anyway, Ash comes on stage in Philly and says that they are playing the entire 1977 album in order, which they then proceed to do. Your blogger was in hog heaven. Given how many people were in the club, I was directly in front of Wheeler with ample room – check out the photos, I took a ton of them – and it was fantastic. The band was on fire, and just tore through 1977 as though the future of the free world depended on it. Everyone in the crowd, including yours truly, seemed to know all the words, and the band was clearly well-rehearsed on the songs and enjoyed playing them.
If they had followed up with the entirety of Free All Angels, the show would have been a “best of all time” candidate. But they followed 1977 with some b-sides, some of their early singles, and then concluded the show with Shining Bright and Burn Baby Burn, two of the best songs from Free All Angels. Wow! Rather than feeling exhausted at the end, I was fired up. Rock ‘n roll salvation!
As you look at the photos below, notice a couple of things. First, Wheeler is a Gibson man, and used about 4 different Gibson’s during the night. Second, Hamilton on bass can really strike rock ‘n roll poses. He is fun/funny to watch live – a big gangly guy playing his bass with a lot of style and verve. Finally, my pictures pretty much excluded McMurray on drums. Rick, my apologies – I got your drum kit in a number of shots, but didn’t get any of you personally. My bad.
So that was Ash Wednesday, 1977-style. I’ll be back soon as next week brings three more amazing bands into the BRP live music pantheon. They are the English Beat, Squeeze and Teenage Fanclub. Oh my, I am excited!! In the meantime, chill out, rock hard, enjoy the pics, and thanks for reading.
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My name is Bill, and I live in the greater Philadelphia area. I love music, and I have a lot of opinions. This site is primarily focused on music, but sometimes I get off track. I hope you enjoy.