Ride. A band who promised so much. Four beautiful boys playing guitars like a thousand angels jamming in heaven. In those post-Smiths/post-Roses and pre-Blur/pre-Oasis days, they were kings. A handful of killer EPs, a classic debut (“Nowhere”), an even better sophmore album (“Going Blank Again”) and then … a slow fizzle into relative obscurity. A worthy, rootsy album which suddenly found them in awe of the then ascendant Oasis (“Carnival of Light”), and a fractured, final album (“Tarantula”) that was deleted on the day of release by Creation is one of the most ill-informed marketing gimmicks of all time.
Ride were never as arty or “cool” as labelmates My Bloody Valentine, but peaked just too early to coast on the early wave of Britpop. After their demise co-frontman Andy Bell went on to play bass with Oasis (surely a massive waste of a considerable talent) and Gardener briefly fronted the underwhelming Animalhouse before releasing a sole solo album back in 2005. A sadly inauspicious end to one of the best bands of the early 90s.
So, fast-forward to 2012 – twenty years since the release of “Going Blank Again” – and I find myself at the Kings Arms in Auckland, about to watch an older, wiser Mark Gardener play an acoustic set. An interesting proposition for an artist whose most celebrated work relied on swathes of fed-back guitar noise processed through an array of effects pedals. Would these songs even stand up in such a stripped-back setting?
Coming on at the gentlemanly time of 10:30, Gardener still looks the part. He’s still dapper and lean, with those trademark high cheekbones still in check. Nattily dressed in a suit jacket and rakishly perched fedora, he could easily have popped out of any film noir, looks more gumshoe than washed-out rock star. The set begins tentatively … a new song (cue groans from the audience) and a bunch of technical issues with the mics and effects, and I’m wondering whether the next hour will be an awkward one. Thankfully, Gardener deals with the PA issues like a true pro, and turns out he’s quite the affable chap. We’re all endeared to him, and when the Ride songs start coming think and fast, we’re eating out of his hand. “In a Different Place”, “Dreams Burn Down”, “Vapour Trail”, “Twisterella”, “Chrome Waves”, “Time Machine”, “From Time to Time” and a cover of Gram Parsons’ “A Song for You” … every one sounds incredible ringing out from Mark’s 12-string acoustic, and it’s amazing how pastoral and delicate those Ride songs are when stripped of their trademark reverb and effects. Only The Creation’s “How Does it Feel to Feel” falls a bit flat, and that was always the low point “Carnival of Light” anyway.
Finishing with the one-two punch of “Drive Blind” and the epic “Leave them All Behind” we’re all left wanting more. Mark promises to come back soon with a full band. I can’t wait …
Review by Lawrence Mikkelsen