They wrote great songs and great songs never die.
The guy behind me in the queue is one of many balding middle-aged men sporting faded, worn-to-death Ride t-shirts. “I saw them in Manchester back in May. Seeing them tonight. Seeing them on Monday in Birmingham. Was there in 1991 when they were touring ‘Nowhere’.” I tell him that I was still three years from being born in 1991 and he replies: “But that’s why they’re so good. I’m here and you’re here and their music has lasted all this time. That’s what great music is.”
This is Ride’s first full UK tour since their reformation last November, and tonight’s gig is the first they’ve played in Bristol for over twenty years. In terms of sheer set length they seem intent on making up for lost time; it’s a dizzying two and a half hour behemoth, storming through a litany of their ‘latter-day’ hits, mostly cherry-picked from the vastly underrated ‘Going Blank Again’, before breaking for an interval and returning to play the seminal ‘Nowhere’ in full.
They open with ‘Leave Them All Behind’, a swirling and breathless eight-minute guitar workout, but it’s not until ‘OX4’ that the four-piece really hit their stride, a woozy synth line swaying alongside Andy Bell’s crisp, jangling guitar that typified so much of their later work. It’s the first of many joyous moments where seemingly mild, sensible men can be seen making utterly magnificent fools of themselves, hopping around like demented salmon. By contrast, Bell looks like he could be waiting at a bus stop, nonchalance personified. Another highlight of the set’s first half, and one of the few which isn’t taken from ‘Going Blank Again’, is ‘Today’, a largely acoustic-led ballad which slowly swells into a monstrous, cacophonous finale. They haven’t even had to dip into their best album yet.
But when they do, it’s marvellous. Bell returns without the jacket he wore for the first half as if he means business, and the band proceed to tear into ‘Seagull’, ‘Kaleidoscope’ and ‘Polar Bear’ as if they were playing them for the first time. Friends in the audience dance together in a way that only comes from growing up together over decades, playing ‘Nowhere’ at parties, weddings, funerals; a man next to me looks like he’s being tasered in slow motion. There is a sense of giddy momentum building during this second half of the set, from the psychedelic road-movie soundtrack that is ‘Decay’ to Steve Queralt’s crunching, gravelly bass on ‘Here and Now’. This is all, of course, backed by ‘Loz’ Colbert’s imperious drumming, ranging his style from the effortlessly nimble to the thunderous. ‘Drive Blind’, the first of a two-song encore, ends in a wash of noise that builds in a way that isn’t punishing but leaves you feeling as though the contents of your head have been scooped out and you’re left simply nodding along, going blank, eyes wide and delirious.
Back in 1988 the band chose the name Ride as a reference to the cymbal which would become a touchstone of their sound and for its connotations of journeying. Tonight I am surrounded by people who are a little chubbier and a little greyer than they were when they saw Ride the first time around but whose collective reaction suggests that this is better than they could have hoped such a long-awaited reunion to be.
The last two years have seen music critics laud the return of shoegaze, and they’re half right. ‘Shoegaze’ as a musical term is now dead and meaningless, gone the way of all things fashionable. What is clear tonight that Ride are not fashionable but they are, emphatically, back. And it makes complete sense looking at them up there because, in the words of the late, great Tony Wilson, ‘they wrote great songs and great songs never die.’
Check out the legendary ‘Vapour Trail’ right here: