March 26, 1991 was the last time I saw Ride live.
I’d interviewed their touring partners, Lush, earlier that day. What a combo! Much fuzz, so wow!
But I was there to see RIDE. Oh boy, was I obsessed with Ride’s album Nowhere – purchased on cassette – and at that time there were likely few people as shoegaze-committed as I. The Manics were glamming ground in the UK, the Stone Roses and baggy were big, of course, but it was seven months almost to the day before Blur would play their first-ever gig in Canada at Lee’s Palace (was there, too), and Oasis were still roadieing for the Inspiral Carpets.
Nope, my playpen was shoegaze. Back then, I spoke fluent Levitation – Revolver – Slowdive – Curve – Chapterhouse – Telescopes – Spacemen 3 – Catherine Wheel – Lush and RIDE. I prayed in the Church of Distortion, worshipped at the feet of Drone and sang along with the mix of Melody. I adored Mark Gardener and RIDE, and in 1991, I pretty much told him so n’er more than 10 minutes after he hopped off stage.
So here I am again, holy hell is it 24 years later, in Toronto again.
The same week I was supposed to be in London. Seeing RIDE.
But my mom’s surgery and a need to be a good daughter meant that my trip to London’s Field Day Festival had to be cancelled. RIDE were headlining. Le sigh. But as hefty as I weight music, I value mom more. I packed my bags for the Tdot.
But the fates smirked. And what? RIDE were, days before London, playing Toronto. In a cozy theatre with a capacity of 1500, instead of to a muddy field of 10,000. Praise be to the Good Lord Reverb.
So there I stood at the Danforth Music Hall, about to relieve the wah-wah years, grateful that RIDE had decided to give it another go.
Front row, cider in hand, with a few friends who’d been there back in the day…we were reverberating. So imagine how remarkable a moment it was when a giant word – RIDE – flashed up on the backdrop and the opening bars of “Leave Them All Behind” washed over us like a big, noisy blanket.
There as Mark Gardener, sporting his typical jaunty fedora (long gone are the luscious locks but still a looker) and beaming. There was Andy Bell, finally, as someone remarked on Twitter, “back in a proper band”. Bell used to play with Oasis, and still looks the part, all shag mod haircut and sunglasses like a leaner Liam. Steve on bass, and how the hell did I forget how incredible a drummer Loz Colbert is? No more.
It just all sounded so HUGE and not just big, but clever, too. Not because of nostalgia’s sake or for the fact that the Danforth Music Hall has truly fantastic sound. But for the fact that the years of gigging apart has made them better musicians. RIDE songs were suddenly less muddy, more crisp. And oh! You could actually hear those layers that we worked so hard to parse back then (but which died on cassette).
That’s not to say that the distortion (that miraculous thing that RIDE picked up from Sonic Youth) or drone (from Spacemen 3) or rock n’ roll reverb (from everywhere else) were skipped. Nothing was skipped. Everything was there in a surround sound that I’d never heard from RIDE, not even from the 180gm vinyl of Nowhere I nearly arm-wrestled for, last Record Store Day.
No, never have classics “Twisterella”, “OX4”, “Taste” or “Chrome Waves” sounded so monumental. “Dreams Burn Down” washed over in a fog, but it was “Vapour Trail” and “Drive Blind” that truly earned the epic adjective, I swear to all the gods. The music sounded like a monolith covered in iridescent sparkles being hauled in on the back of a unicorn. And wrapping the encore with a gritty cover of the Strooges’ “I Wanna Be Your Dog”? EPIC. But shoegaze can be maddeningly introspective and make for a shit live gig. Not so that night. With a smiling Mark Gardener, trading grins with the lads, attempting to tell the story about how they were stranded by United Airlines, and Andy thanking us all and sounding truly impressed that we were so dedicated? The engagement was spot on. In short? Epic band, epic gig, epic return, epic overuse of the term. But well-earned. \m/