Being a review of Adam Ant at the Komedia in Bath, April 2013
It is 1979. I am freshly graduated and visiting London for some reason. On the Tube I see someone has been busy spreading stickers for a new band. It is all a bit strange. Who is Dirk? Why does he wear white socks? Is this some new fashion trend, like parkas, crombies or safety pins? Still, one thing is certain; these Ant people know their music. One of the stickers bears the phrase, “That crazy music drives you insane”. It seems an innocuous enough piece of bravado, but those of us in the know instantly recognize it as a quote from “Editions of You”, a fabulous track from Roxy Music’s second album, For Your Pleasure. If the Ants are into early Roxy, they are OK by me.
You may not like it now but you will.
By 1981 I have a job and am living in Clapham. Malcolm McLaren has lured away Adam’s backing band to form Bow Wow Wow. The new Ants have a number one album. I am reading John Barth and trying to get my head around post-modernism. I probably read far too much into Kings of the Wild Frontier. More to the point, thanks to all of the shenanigans with McLaren and Annabella Lwin, I now know what is meant by “Burundi Beat”. I am probably a little too old to swoon over Adam’s fine cheekbones, but I love those double drums. My house mates probably got heartily sick of my playing Kings.
The future will not stand still
Fast forward now to the last day of 2012. I am watching the Jools Holland Hootenanny, as I often do on New Year’s Eve. Adam Ant is one of the guests. I am rather surprised, given that he’s even older than I am, and has been through plenty of life issues of his own. He does a couple of his old hits. They are OK, but the big question I have is how many drum kits he has backing him. I see two. I am happy.
Then Roz Clarke asks if anyone in the BristolCon team is up for a trip to Komedia in Bath to see Adam live. I jump at the chance.
Antmusic for sexpeople
The support act is New Killer Shoes. They are what you might call an “attack guitar” band. That is, they are fronted by three energetic young men with electric guitars who play very fast. They are impressively tight, except possibly for the final number where they try to demonstrate their virtuosity. The first number was very good indeed. Sadly the rest of the set doesn’t follow suit. Their material is all very similar, and after a while it gets dull. Still, there is promise there, if they can get some better material.
Sexmusic for antpeople
Adam’s new band is called The Good, the Mad and the Lovely Posse. They are not the Ants, and Adam looks more like a chubby extra from Les Misérables than a pirate Prince Charming. More to the point, Adam’s hit singles were produced to within an inch of their lives. You can’t reproduce that on stage, especially when you are playing to audiences of only a few hundred. The new band is a rock band. They do have two drum kits. There are two electric guitars, sometimes with Adam adding a third. And occasionally a backing singer in a figure-hugging vinyl dress joins them on stage. The dress is black, with a big red skull and crossbones on the left hip. I covet it somewhat, but clearly don’t have the figure to do it justice.
Where was I? Oh yes, the band. The point is that with a band like this you cannot reproduce the sound of the hit singles. You have to do something different with them, or abandon them. Adam is too smart to do the latter. At one point late in the set he jokes about telling journalists that he’d only play the jazz fusion version of the new album and a two-minute medley of his old hits. By this time he has already played several well known songs, so no one is surprised when the band launch furiously into renditions of “Goody Two Shoes” and “Prince Charming”.
The sound is not always what it might be. Whether this is the fault of the club or the band isn’t clear. (I am stood right behind the mixing desk, but I don’t have the technical knowledge to discern who was at fault.) Nevertheless, the material is great, and the band has it well under control. It is loud, it is fast, and there are plenty of fine anthems in the mix. I haven’t kept up with Adam’s output, but I enjoyed most of the songs despite not being familiar with many of them. That’s always a mark of a good show.
One of the old songs that works best with the new band is “Ant Invasion”. That should perhaps not be a surprise, as it is far more a screaming guitar number than a dance number. It also reminds me that Adam is a showman. He doesn’t just stand there and play, he thinks about how the songs should be presented, and that always makes for better entertainment.
Antpeople are the [electric] warriors
And so to the encores, of which there are plenty. In the third and final encore Adam surprises and delights me by performing a version of T. Rex’s “Get it on”. My aged feet are rather tired, but he has me bouncing up and down throughout. So maybe the whole gig is an exercise in nostalgia after all. I certainly come away thinking that many of the people in the audience are older than me. Or at least look and behave older than me. Then again, I have the second best hat in the house (after Adam, of course).
And even when you’re healthy
And your colour schemes delight
It took a couple of days for my ears to recover afterwards. Nevertheless, I had a great time. Many thanks to Roz for the suggestion, and being fine company for the evening. Adam and I may both be getting on a bit, but it seems that we can both still rock. Hopefully not too embarrassingly, even if we are both a shade too white.