Thursday, 2 June 2011
818 ADAM ANT AND THE GOOD, THE MAD AND THE LOVELY POSSE, Krakatoa, Dressing For Pleasure, Birmingham O2 Academy, Wednesday 1 June 2011
Adam Ant? Adam frickin' Ant???? Oh yes. This was a gig I totally jumped all over as soon as I found out about it, so I could revisit one of my earliest musical icons. As a 15 year old fledgling punk rocker, I whiled away many a lazy hazy drunken Summer evening down the park with a gang of punks, copious bottles of Merrydown cider and Adam And The Ants as a musical backdrop. Really early stuff as well; not just “Dirk Wears White Sox”, their sleazy, sexy pseudo-glam punk first album, but Ant songs predating that, songs celebrating the perverse and different, songs which never saw the light of officially recorded day until a few popped up, also quite perversely, on the “B” sides of the big hits. I was an Ant fan on the ground floor, me! Unluckily, as soon as I was old enough to go to gigs, Adam Ant had “gone popular”; riding on the wave of “Stand And Deliver”, his first number one hit, he’d become a chameleonic new romantic pop idol, definitely not to my tastes. So there we’d parted, but I remembered my love of his old material…
Since those halcyon hit-strewn days, Adam had fallen on harder times, becoming a victim of changing musical/fashion tastes and suffering mental health issues, also sadly being arrested and sectioned on occasion. Thankfully, he’d emerged the other side, exorcised his ghosts in a splendid and frank autobiography, and decided to continue this recovery by getting back to performing “live”. I picked up on this recent burst of Ant activity at the end of last year, very nearly buying a ticket for one of his Xmas “World Tour of London” dates but blanching at the ticket price (£50? For the Electric Ballroom? Fuck that!). However a proper UK tour, apparently his first for 25 years, was just the ticket, and I sorted myself one for this Birmingham gig, the nearest the original slew of dates came to Swindon. Amazingly, I was on my own for this; despite doing some pre-gig research and finding, much to my utter delight, that the set was predominantly formed of the pre “Stand And Deliver” material of my hazy cider-fuelled mid-teens, I couldn’t persuade anyone to join me!
So, I hit the road at 5.30, full of anticipation but aware of previous issues with getting to this venue. However I needn’t have worried as this, a new location for Birmingham’s O2 Academy, was easy to get to and park up for. So I hit the gig, already utterly heaving with old punks, middle aged housewives with white stripes across their noses and the generally curious, at 7.30 in time for openers Dressing For Pleasure. A 3-piece featuring 2 sisters playing at burlesque dress-up and a stand-up bloke drummer, they played a thrashy garage blare, with their cover of The Clash’s “Should I Stay Or Should I Go” poor but easily the best number they inflicted on us in their thankfully short set. From Birmingham, apparently, although still largely ignored! Main support Krakatoa were better; a group of young Cockneys mining a similar garagey vein, but with more Modish, Who leanings, and some occasional bluebeat thrown in. Another cover, Jefferson Airplane’s “Somebody To Love”, was their best number too. I‘ve seen worse support bands; the first lot, for starters…
The crowd anticipation was palpable as we awaited the entrance of Adam; a huge “Antmusic For Sexpeople” backdrop and the double-drumkit set-up of old filled the stage. The place was old-school packed – not an inch to wiggle as I found a tiny and breathless viewing spot a few rows back, stage left. After a seemingly interminable wait, the band came on at the appointed hour and eased into the grungey, riff-heavy opening bars of “Plastic Surgery”. Then Adam emerged, dressed in a British Hussar’s gold rope embellished jacket and plumed pirate hat, pencil moustache and large glasses, looking for all the world 20 years younger than his actual 56 (!), as the opening number soared into punk-rock full-speed, Adam already yelping in his instantly recognisable vocal style.
The drums hit overload for “Dog Eat Dog” as I eased forward, and by the opening bars of “Beat My Guest”, a brilliant amphetamine-fast punk celebration of Sado-Masochism, I was in the mosh down the front, bashing away furiously and screaming the lyric for all I was worth, a 15 year old punk rocker again. A brilliant sequence followed; “Kick”, a furious manifesto, the jaunty and wonderfully singalong “Cartrouble”, then an awesome “Zerox”, easing in with its’ pin-picked opening riff then building throughout to an all-too short final strident crescendo of noise. Simply stunning stuff.
“This song is when I jumped out of the window and everything changed,” Adam announced as “Stand And Deliver” kicked in, igniting the housewives and still sounding, well, pretty good actually, for his “watershed” pop number. “Catholic Day” followed, Adam mischievously miming both the shooter and victim in this old number about the Kennedy assassination. Then a serious moment as Adam introduced the image-defining “Kings Of The Wild Frontier” as, “I mean every word of this song, I nearly died for this." Full-on Burundi-style double drumbeats and Native American chanting made for an all-encompassing set highlight. “A new Royal Family, a wild nobility…” indeed!
Adam, by now relaxed and in good fooling, with a swish and a swagger to his riveting and energetic performance totally belying his years, casually stated, “another hit single then? Why not? I dunno, guys playing stadiums after 2 hits; you’re having a laugh, right? I worked for this!” before a singalong “Antmusic”. Then after some Johnny Thunders stories, a dedication of “Cleopatra” for Elizabeth Taylor and featuring some more teasing (“you know what it’s about, right?”) and some choice words about Bono and U2 (“you want to see a hundred foot spider? Bollocks!”), a fantastic, Carry-on saucy “Lady” segued into a frantic, powerful “Fall In” to end a pretty damn near perfect set. A couple of encores, sadly omitting “Press Darlings” but featuring a fun, throwaway “A.N.T.S”, his own version of “YMCA”, and a speeded-up “Physical”, performed by a by-now shirtless Adam, rounded off a breathless, fucking lightning-quick 1¾ hours. Where the hell did that time go??!
I collected my thoughts (and a set-list – yay!) before realising I’d taken a total pounding and had been feeling sick for about the last half-hour, nevertheless toughing it out to suck out the max from this one. I’d been eagerly anticipating this gig since discovering Adam’s set, perhaps unfairly so given Adam’s long lay-off and recent history of mental health issues; however he delivered in brilliant style, with a performance which stripped back the years and restored his icon to full radiance. This was fully all I’d hoped it could possibly be. Welcome back, Adam Ant!