Mark Gardener, Underground Lovers and Sky Parade @ The Factory Theatre, Sydney (4/8/2012)

With the bulk of the crowd keeping a safe distance at the back of the dancefloor, L.A natives Sky Parade try manfully to make an impression, but the level of applause never rises above polite. With a big guitar sound and a murky blues feel, their songs often aim for a sky-kissing, immersive euphoria but never quite get there and their final song, Fire in Your Heart, a solid but unspectacular effort, is representative of their middling set. Their opening slot was just one part of their role tonight however, however, as they later return as Mark Gardener’s backing band and expertly recreate the layered guitars of his best work.

The atmosphere goes up a notch when Underground Lovers take the stage. One of Australia’s most treasured bands in the early ‘90s, their appearances since their return to the live circuit have been rare, which lends a real sense of anticipation and occasion to each time they play. Vincent Giarusso remains an unlikely, idiosyncratic front man and Glen Bennie’s guitar work is as clean and beautiful as ever. The classic Dream it Down is unleashed early, its stately rhythm melting into the purest noise. There’s even a new song, with a slinky bassline and a real sense of elegant menace that explodes mid song and promises more greatness to come. They finish in fine style with one of the greatest songs ever written by an Australian band, the absolutely epic Your Eyes, and depart with their lofty reputation well and truly intact.

Underground Lovers supported My Bloody Valentine in the early ‘90s and Ride were considered contemporaries of Kevin Shields’ group, their masterpiece Nowhere standing as a solid gold shoegaze classic. This tour is in honour of the twentieth anniversary for the follow-up to that album, the less mind-melting but still hugely enjoyable Going Blank Again which saw Gardner already starting to slowly move away from the hazy all-consuming guitar assault of their storming debut.

For an anniversary show, there’s not a lot of stuff from Going Blank Again, but the feverish, hypnotic Time Machine is a real treat for long-term fans, especially as Gardener admits Ride never attempted the song live the first time around because they were “always too stoned”. There’s another slice of shoegaze heaven with Nowhere standout In a Different Place.

Less compelling moments follow when Gardener revisits his generally underwhelming solo album These Beautiful Ghosts with the gentle Getting Out of Your Own Way, a tune which he explains was inspired by a detour to hippie mecca Nimbin. The Places We Go, a collaboration with Cocteau Twins member Robin Guthrie is pretty enough but not particularly memorable.

There was a turbulence in Ride’s best music, a rapturous beauty carved out of stormy guitars and this volume and tension is noticeably lacking in his less urgent later work. He’s back to his best in the encore though, a blazing Leave it All Behind which thrills as much as it frustrates in that it shows the kind of swaggering scorched earth shoegaze Gardener is still capable of.

Throughout the night, he handles the repeated requests for classic Ride songs with good humour and talks enthusiastically about plans to record new material and return to Australia with more fresh songs. But it’s hard to escape the tension between the hazy electric guitar meltdowns the audience longs for and the mellower acoustic guitar stuff Gardener now favours. There was enough here to leave fans reasonably satisfied, but you get the feeling that the mighty legacy of Nowhere is going to be hard to shake.