A fierce and fantastic set from Ride at the start of a historic week for the country.
Perched as we are at the end of a decade, it’s difficult not to find oneself thinking back to how things were at its beginning. One thing is for certain, the version of me who blinked blearily awake on the 1st of January 2010, would never have expected I’d see the decade out having seen Ride three times in one year. With more than 30 years as a music obsessive under my belt, I am constantly astonished at how lucky I am that almost all of the bands who I loved at the beginning are still here today – even if some of them had a decade or two off in the meantime.
And I would not even have expected it at the beginning of 2019, but Ride have become the band of the year for me. With their triumphant return in August with “This Is Not A Safe Place”, their second album since reforming in 2015, Ride have surged forth with an astonishing confidence, proving themselves as an exciting and relevant band just as ready to take on the 20s as any new gang of upstarts.
I’ve already seen Ride twice this year, at their album launch gigs at Rough Trade and Pryzm in August – two spirited shows that left me excited for what was to come on the main tour. So off I trundled this pre-Christmas evening to the majestically stark surrounds of the Barbican Centre. The whole Barbican Estate is full of the ghosts of memories for me, as my family spent a couple of mid-80s summer holidays visiting my godfather who lives there. It was a time when my love for the cantankerous and strange and wonderful city I now live is was formed, and it felt brilliantly fitting to find myself within its oddly beautiful Brutalist walls again as I see out my gigging year – and indeed, decade.
Support came from Petr Alexander, who comprised a string quartet and a keyboard player. They performed a set of intriguingly mournful instrumental pieces in a modern classical style mingled with electronica, and while they may have been an unusual choice of prelude to Ride, they were very well suited to the stately surroundings and lent a sense of grandeur to the evening of music ahead of us.
Ride took to the stage, as at their Pryzm show in the summer, to the clattering instrumental of “R.I.D.E”. Back then I predicted that the crowd would be shouting out the band’s name along with the whispers that punctuate the track, but this didn’t seem to happen, at least not where I was sitting. Perhaps I was too distracted by all the latecomers taking their seats. While it was wonderful to see the band walk on stage in this grandiose hall with its brilliant acoustics, there was something left to be desired by having to deal with distractions from ushers leading people to their places, or as the gig went on, people jumping up to head to the bar.
However, that was nothing more than a mild distraction from the brilliance that took place on the stage below. Ride began their set with the buoyant “Jump Jet” and yearningly gorgeous “Future Love” from the latest album. Then came their first foray into classic Ride tunes with my favourite of them all, “Leave Them All Behind”. I could not help but be attacked by the ghost of my 17 year old self in 1992, and my devastation that year to miss out on Ride’s Australian tour because I was under-aged. To be in a position all these years later, where I’ve now seen Ride four times – something even five years ago I would have thought impossible – is just incredible. And because I missed that 1992 gig, and Ride split up before I made it to London, I have no youthful memories with which to compare the experience of seeing Ride now. This means that they are the only one of my all-time favourite bands for which I’m still in the early throes of getting to know them as a live band. For a creaky old girl from the 90s like me, this is a wonderful thing.
My two absolute faves were performed early – the aforementioned “Leave Them All Behind”, which was a huge, whirling, emotional roller coaster of a live tune, and the gorgeous steely melancholy of “Chrome Waves”. After that, it was a long stretch of songs from the two reunion albums. Highlights for me were the beautiful “Shadows Behind The Sun” and the more and more timely “Lannoy Point” from “Weather Diaries”, with its opening lines: “The face of reason equals treason / A treason against all reason.”
Given that it was the start of election week, the band were not shy of making comment on the current political situation, exhorting us to vote tactically. An even stronger message came across later in the week, at the Manchester gig on election night, where the screen behind the band flickered the message “Fuck Off Boris” before they took the stage. Now, of course, we all know what the outcome was, and I have to say that sitting here in the grim, post-election reality, I find myself yearning for that more hopeful feeling that we had only a few days ago.
The confidence that Ride possess currently is astounding. Eleven of the nineteen tracks played this night were from their last two albums, and the gig suffered not one bit for it. It’s interesting to contrast the newer Ride approach to the old. There’s a simplicity to their 90s tunes, from the hazy, even sci-fi-esque lyrical concepts, to the repetitiveness of the melodies, all leading to a sense of dreamy unreality. By contrast, the new tracks burst with seething commentary on the world we live in today. If there’s something I definitely could not have predicted about 2019 way back in the mists of 1992, it would be that of my favourite bands, it would be Ride and not the Manic Street Preachers making pointed political commentary in their lyrics and media presence.
After the run of newer tracks there followed couple of classics. “OX4”, with its huge chords and stomping bass, was massive yet still graceful and beautiful. And “Taste” was full of buoyant, youthful energy, inspiring many pockets of the seated balcony crowd to leap up and dance. A quick blast back into the present day came with the caustic “Kill Switch” and then it was a trio of very early tunes to finish the main set. “Drive Blind” very literally lived up to its name with its driving, pounding energy and blinding wig-out light show. And then the delicately pretty “In A Different Place” and joyously sad “Vapour Trail” brought things to a close.
We had a few brief moments to holler and stamp for an encore, and then the band returned to the baroque organ stylings that preface the utterly gorgeous “In This Room”, the final song from their latest album. And then, with an excellent sense of symmetry, the gig finished with the euphoric feedback squall of “Seagull”, the first song from their debut.
For me personally, as someone who was denied the chance to see this most incredible band live the first time round, Ride’s current renaissance is truly a wonderful thing. We may have ended this week with the UK in a much worse state than we began it, and never have the words “This Is Not A Safe Place” felt more apt, as we now face five years ahead of us where the UK is not going to be a safe place for anyone but the most wealthy and privileged. But in times like this, we need things that bring us together with those who believe in the same things as we do, like kindness over hatred, strength in diversity, and a sense of duty to help those less fortunate than us. And while the week may have ended with the opposite sentiments winning through, I’m so glad it began, for me, in a safe place, with one of the greatest bands of my lifetime.