Adam Ant @ The Symphony Hall, 13th May, 2017

Adam Ant @ The Symphony Hall, 13th May, 2017Adam Ant @ The Symphony Hall, 13th May, 2017Adam Ant @ The Symphony Hall, 13th May, 2017

Adam AntJoe Strummer wrote a song about seeing Dillinger, Leroy Smart and Delroy Wilson in 1978 called “(White Man) In Hammersmith Palais” containing the phrase “turning rebellion into money” – that song above any other sums up Adam Ant’s show tonight at Symphony Hall.

Adam Ant is a very complex and interesting man.  He is a punk at heart, and made a wonderfully dark and enigmatic album in 1979 that no one bought.  He then made a decision (and a deal with the devil, Malcolm McLaren) that what he actually wanted more than a punk heart, more than integrity, was to sell millions of records.  So he deliberately changed everything, made himself into a pantomime character and wrote songs that would appeal to kids and grandmothers and everyone in between who had never heard “Whip in My Valise”.  He became a wardrobe manager’s dream: native American; pirate; highwayman; Dick Whittington; spaceman – he trawled the depths of British light entertainment and music hall making himself a household name very quickly as his music became more and more diluted.

Tonight of this, his ‘Anthems’ tour, is the result of all those decisions, and sown into the fabric of Adam’s costumes is a punk who sold out – sold the rebellion inherent in the facades he presented and what he had previously represented, for a handful of top ten hits, before being deserted by capricious disciples with the resulting years in the wilderness.  He could have been another Strummer but became the 80’s version of Glitter, Mud or Sweet.

What is interesting about tonight’s audience is that many still probably never bought “Dirk Wears White Sox” and as the closing songs reflect more that Ant-era sound than the thigh-slapping, charming dame they love, the crowd of fickle fans head for the exits.  However, for me, the last ten minutes of the show put right the previous ninety minutes of painful pantomime.

Despite these reservations, Adam and his new ant members put on a powerful performance that has the crowd on their feet from the moment the two bass drums first kick in along with the signature thundering toms, on the opening track “Beat My Guest” – and there is not a moment’s lull in the next hour and forty-five minutes.  As the hit songs are played one after the other in quick succession; I begin to think half way through, what is he leaving in reserve for the encore?

Adam Ant had a multitude of hits in the early part of the 1980’s – for a while, he was the biggest star in the UK.  The more successful he became, the more he moved away from the music that first moved him: punk.  His original rock star creation (after changing his name) was a fetishist obsessed with bondage and S & M – Antmusic for sexpeople.  Then Adam moved from fans who enjoyed S & M to those who shopped at M & S.  And it is the latter who have remained mostly loyal, as is clear from the masses who scream and dance and applaud almost every song tonight.  It appears that the fascination felt by the fans back in 1981 for the highwayman and then the prince, far out number the bondage set.  I wonder how Adam feels about that?

From the stalls, Adam Ant still has bucket loads of charisma, although he seems to have turned into a caricature of himself.  I wonder whether Johnny Depp’s inspiration for Captain Jack is actually Adam rather than Keith, or whether Adam is now doing a Captain Jack impression.  Whatever the case, Adam Ant is still wonderfully entertaining and clearly very fit for a man in his early sixties.  He may have replaced some of his jumps and knee drops, for a quick slap of his thigh and a spin, and his dance moves are limited to a quick stand on the front monitor and a piercing look at the front few rows, but he still looks every inch a star.

I notice early on that all but one of the band are singing backing vocals, and as the set moves along I notice Adam’s voice is only sounding strong due to the support from the five other singers who are filling in gaps left by his lead vocal.  The high notes in “Cartrouble” for instance (you know the ice cream bit) sounds like a real struggle when he is left singing the part alone, and the beautifully simple “Wonderful” is marred by a weak vocal from him, in which he takes the higher key and his bass player takes the lower and is clearly heard.  Many of the other tracks he manages with little effort but he often seems fighting for breath at the end of a line.  He is battling for room in a band that is truly thumping out his songs though, and trying to be heard clearly over two massive drum kits and two massively overdriven guitars is a feat for anyone.  He whoops and wails through “Kings of the Wild Frontier”, but the verses, which are a distinct call to arms for the legions of Antpeople are reduced to a mumble then a resounding “Yeaaahh” from those you know he just said “Antpeople are the warriors”.  However, “Dog Eat Dog” is powerful; “Zerox” is masterful; “Young Parisians” is a delight; and the encores of “Lady” segueing into “Fall In”, “Red Scab” (with its hypnotising tempo change at the end) and the absolute highlight of the night “Physical (You’re So)” are mind-blowing – it is at this point that I remember why Adam Ant was my absolute hero during 1979/1980, and probably why everything he did after that (apart from “Wonderful” in 1995) was an utter disappointment… until tonight.

As mentioned earlier, during these encores there is a noticeable exodus of those that probably had noticed he has already played “Puss ‘n Boots”, “Goody Two Shoes”, “Stand and Deliver” and “Prince Charming” so there’s no reason to stay and listen to any more, particularly as it has now gone a bit raucous.  The striking thing about the encores is how powerful Adam now sounds, like he has found his true calling – that punk heart still beats and I am happy that this is my lasting memory of the show… I’ll forget about those other things and remain deep in my blissful amnesia.

I have to concede that on the whole it is a great show, but for me, there are glaring omissions: “Kick”, “Press Darlings”, “Deutscher Girls” and if you play “Zerox”, surely you have to play its B-side, “Whip in My Valise”.  But I guess Adam Ant learnt that giving the people what they want pays bills, and this is what he continues to do with this tour – play all the singles and a handful of B-sides to those that bought the bulk of those singles.  The fact that for me, those singles are as bad as “Agadoo” or “Chico Time”, and the same audience that buy into novelty records caught onto Adam Ant’s vision of pop music, means that he can never truly be more than a purveyor of middle of the road light entertainment.

Adam stated very early on into his pirate phase: “It’s your money that we want and your money we shall have” and I guess this has been his focus rather than writing interesting and original songs.  That career choice has been his saviour and also his downfall, but it is clear he is still a consummate performer and delivers consistently.  To execute “Physical (You’re So)” with such conviction and power twenty-seven years after he first recorded it, shows Adam Ant is as vital and necessary now as he was when he started the journey in 1976.

 

Adam Ant Set List

Beat My Guest

Vive Le Rock

Dog Eat Dog

Apollo 9

Friend or Foe

Antmusic

Room at the Top

Desperate But Not Serious

Cartrouble

Zerox

Young Parisians

Prince Charming

Gotta Be a Sin

Puss ‘n Boots

Can’t Set Rules About Love

Wonderful

Strip

Kings of the Wild Frontier

Greta X

B-Side Baby

Rough Stuff

Goody Two Shoes

Stand and Deliver

Encore:

Lady/Fall In

Red Scab

Physical (You’re So)

 

Review: Alan Neilson

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