The past 25 years have been quite good to the band Ride.
Although the shoegazer quartet disappeared in 1996 after four full-length albums, they returned more powerful than ever with the launch of a new leg of their US reunion tour on Thursday with a very nearly sold-out show at the 9:30 Club.
Now, I’m a latecomer to shoegaze in general and Ride specifically so I can’t claim to know how good the band were in the past. I can tell you now that they are remarkably talented guitarsmiths today, however, and their earliest stuff in particular holds up incredibly well.
Classics like “Vapour Trail” from their first album Nowhere catch the band at their most pensive — four chords awash over the ears of the audience in gentle waves as lead guitarist Andy Bell sings reflectively of the memory of a love “like a vapour trail in a deep blue sky.”
Watch Ride play “Vapour Trail” for KCRW in Santa Monica, Calif., on April 8, 2015, shortly before appearing at the Coachella Music Festival that month:
Ride performed “Vapour Trail” near the end of their set Thursday, delivering a quieter moment among songs that largely strode on the back of raucous reverb. As my friend Rick Taylor, host DJ of the well-regarded We Fought the Big One, intimated to me afterward, Ride is a band that puts as much effort into crafting their songs as it does generating that glorious noise from their fuzzed out guitars.
The contrast comes quickly as Ride close the main set with “Drive Blind” from their first self-titled EP, also issued in 1990 by Creation Records, the legendary UK label that became famous in part as a clearinghouse for the shoegaze sound. Andy and fellow guitarist Mark Gardener thunder through a lengthy cacophony of blurry, muscular noise for several minutes only to literally leap out of the din and into a smooth groove of contemplating the way ahead in life via a metaphor of being unable to see the road ahead. (And more likely unable to hear it anything either after the impressive wall of sound made by those guitars!)
Flashback and watch Ride perform “Drive Blind” at the Brixton Academy in London on March 27, 1992 (and then imagine the older band bringing twice as much fury to the opening of this song):
Ride showcased much of their earliest material in last week’s show; the band hadn’t performed “Decay” and “Today” live since 1991 and “Birdman” since 1995.
The performance of “Birdman,” early in the set, must have felt redemptive for the band, as the song hailed from their poorly received 1994 psychedelic album, Carnival of Light. Again, time has been good to the material, and it’s easier now to see the link between the straight-up psych vibes of that third full-length album and Ride’s earlier, earnest shoegaze efforts.
The audience received the song as gracefully as the band played it, and you could easily see the future of guitarist Andy as he would later slide into position as the bassist for Oasis, who were much more likely to overtly brandish psychedelic sounds in their music.
All in all, it was a triumphant show for a talented band, who have reformed at the peak of their powers. If you’re a long-time admirer or a newbie learning the shoegaze strings (like me), you’ll want to get a ticket to Ride. As a signature band of the shoegaze genre, alongside their former labelmates My Bloody Valentine, Ride are offering Americans a rare opportunity to enjoy a front-row seat for a set of UK classics.
Ride perform in New York City at Irving Plaza tonight and tomorrow night before hitting the Midwest and wrapping up in Boston over another 10 days before their return to England. They then leap from Birmingham, UK, to Birmingham, Ala., for more US dates in November (right before they release a 25th anniversary edition of Nowhere on Nov. 6), when they will tour the Southwest and West coast.
Don’t let them be but a memory as you too watch wistfully as their vapour trail disappears into the sky.