Adam Ant : Islington Assembly Hall : Nov 2014 : Live Review ‘For the time being, it’s truly been a kick to spend time with Arthouse Adam’

Adam Ant

Islington Assembly Hall

Nov 2014

Live Review

 

The legendary Simon Price was one of the handful of journalists who believed that Adam Ant could pull of his comeback a few years ago. Proved right he returns to see the great Antman deliver a brilliant celebration of his classic and influential Dirk Wears White Sox debut and sees Adam come up trumps yet again.

 

No wonder that Adam Ant still feels he has something to prove. He’s been facing down the doubters from the very start.

If he’s been written off in the present tense as an erratic, flaky and unreliable lunatic in the light of his well-documented mental and legal problems (when, in reality, his live performances since his 2010 comeback have generally gone from strength to strength), he’d be forgiven for laughing a hollow, rueful laugh. He has, after all, seen it all before. In the late Seventies, Adam And The Ants – despite, or perhaps because of, the rabidly loyal following who attended their gigs – were dismissed by the punk cognoscenti as something of a joke band. Adam was an outsider, even among the outsiders.

He would eventually, of course, have the last laugh by turning himself into a Boy’s Own action figure in human form and becoming the biggest pop star on the planet. But first, this incarnation, Adam Ant Mk I – a psychotic and perverse leather boy with stiletto-sharp sideburns and a whip in his valise – would release the Ants’ debut album in 1979, the arty-peculiar, clever-silly, fragile-tough Dirk Wears White Sox.

Over the years, Dirk’s status has grown, a process which arguably began in the Nineties when Elastica referenced the album’s insert booklet Catalogue by stealing its design for their own Elasticatalogue, and has now reached a stage where, ironically, Dirk Wears White Sox IS the Ants album of choice to punk cognoscenti. It’s a testament to the reverence in which DWWS is held that, having already played it at Hammersmith Apollo earlier in the year, Adam can still fill the Islington Assembly Hall, a magnificent Grade II-listed 1930s theatre, on four successive nights for an album which doesn’t feature any hit singles (unless you count “Cartrouble”, a post-Antmania Top 40 entry on its reissue in 1980), with fans making the pilgrimage from as far away as Finland.

Recreating the album in its entirety on its 35th anniversary, for which it has been reissued on white vinyl, he’s assisted by an excellent band, featuring the requisite two drummmers – a trick Adam swiped, of course, from The Glitter Band – and, most impressively, guitarist Will Crewdson (formerly of Rachel Stamp) who, having recently played with Bow Wow Wow, is evidently London’s foremost go-to guy for restoring the legacy of Matthew Ashman. Or, indeed, that of Marco Pirroni. (Crewdson once told me an amazing story about seeing a tassled biker jacket in Camden Market, buying it because it looked like the sort of thing Adam And The Ants would have worn, then looking in the pockets and finding Marco Pirroni’s gym membership card. Which is mind-boggling on at least two levels.)

The twin drummers strike up the introductory doof-doof of “Cartrouble Part 1”, and Adam enters looking markedly less piratical and more fetishistic than in other recent tours, in black leather trousers, leather boots and leather coat, matching the mood of Dirk and the era it represents. In fact, the show amounts to one long slow strip-tease, as the coat, and then the white shirt underneath, are removed. It’s all too much for one heckler, who informs Adam “We all want to fuck you!” He reacts with the gracious smile of someone who’s heard all THAT before, too.

The album’s delivered straight, without much mucking about, other than the bizarre last line of “Family Of Noise” – “…in Croydon!” – changed to “In Croydon… In Croydon… Why Croydon… Why not?” (He is, one imagines, sick of being asked to explain it.)

One thing that becomes clear, over the course of the night, is just how strong Dirk’s influence was on post-punk musical trends of the early 1980s. At a recent panel discussion at the British Library, titled Goth: The Scene That Wouldn’t Die!, The March Violets’ Rosie Garland and Louder Than War’s own John Robb both agreed at a recent panel that Dirk Wears White Sox was one of the records, along with the Banshees’ Join Hands and Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures, which invented Goth. Hearing the lugubrious “Tabletalk” tonight shows how right they were: it’s proto-Bauhaus, essentially. Similarly, “Animals And Men” anticipated the New Romantics’ interest in Futurism by namechecking the Futurist Manifesto and the Italian movement’s leading lights (“Marinetti! Boccioni! Carra! Balla! Palazzeschi!”).

The highlight, for me, is the hilariously spiteful “Catholic Day”, in which Ant is seemingly crowing at the assassination of JFK: “No more messing round, playing with Monroe/No more turning on the middle-aged ladies” and “I see the chickens have come home to roost…” There are, however, lines you’d never get away with now, most strikingly in the album’s closing track “The Idea”, which begins “I went to the zoo to look at the animals/The first thing I saw was a wallfull of handicapped…” A couple of verses later, it redeems itself with the brilliant “I could be religious… if they set the hymns to disco”. Thus ends Dirk Wears White Sox, still as baffling and brilliant as it was in 1979. Perhaps, when dislocated from its era by such a distance, even more so.

Adam isn’t done yet. There’s “A.N.T.S.”, a daft rewritten version of Village People’s “Y.M.C.A.” given away with a 1981 edition of the short-lived but utterly brilliant Flexipop! magazine. There’s some chat about Joe Orton and Christine Keeler, and a sit-down section including “S.E.X.” There’s an unexpected excerpt from the Prince Charming album in the shape of “Picasso Visita El Planeta De Los Simios”. There’s a pulverising “Physical (You’re So)”, and a razor-sharp “Zerox” with Adam himself strapping on an electric guitar.

There’s a crafty bit of misdirection when Adam mentions the Screen On The Green a few hundred yards down Upper Street, arthouse cinema and scene of legendary punk happenings (including the Sex Pistols show that a Wembley Stadium-sized number of people claim to have attended). Many of us are already whooping with excitement, expecting the exhilarating “Fall-In”, which namechecks that venue. Instead, we get a song the Ants used to rehearse there when the owner let them borrow it from midnight till dawn: the haunting “This Strange Effect”, written by Ray Davies but first recorded in 1965 by Sheffield rock’n’roller Dave Berry.

In 2015 it will be Kings Of The Wild Frontier’s turn to get the 35th anniversary reissue treatment. “I’m thinking gold vinyl”, he tells us, and there’ll be more concerts. As a taster, he gives us a thrilling double-whammy of the tribal hits “Kings Of The Wild Frontier” and “Dog Eat Dog” during which he rips his T-shirt in half from the neckline to show that he is, as he boasted last time I saw him live, “the only punk whose chest hasn’t fallen”.

Those tracks’ lyrics of self-determination and warrior pride seem to galvanise something within him. “Sorry for getting a bit passionate during those two songs,” he says, pacing the stage with a steely stare, as if looking for someone to pick a fight with. “But I still mean every word.”

When the KOTWF show comes around, and Top Of The Pops Adam is back, we’ll really see who’s “turning on the middle-aged ladies”. For the time being, it’s truly been a kick to spend time with Arthouse Adam. Point proven, and in some style.

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6 comments on “Adam Ant : Islington Assembly Hall : Nov 2014 : Live Review ‘For the time being, it’s truly been a kick to spend time with Arthouse Adam’”

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  1. With the impending 30th anniversary of Psychocandy celebrated only the other day it somehow doesn’t quite compute that DWWS, an album seemingly from a different time entirely, preceded it by just 5/6 years

  2. Great review. Yesterday was amazing too. Not as packed as Saturday but a real treat for long term fans. As much as i would have liked Andy Warren and Dave Barbe on stage, i thought the band were great. Strange Effect was a real treat. It’s so refreshing that his comeback is totally on his own terms. Roll on next year and some Kings gigs, another vinyl re-release and of course the new album.

  3. “Dirk’s status has grown, a process which arguably began in the Nineties when Elastica referenced the album’s insert booklet Catalogue by stealing its design for their own Elasticatalogue”

    No Simon, the Ant Catalogue came with the Kings Of The Wild Frontier album

  4. Aantazy Warrior

    Very well expressed and delivered, Simon!
    I must say it takes a certain type of individual to report to the public on a presence like that of Adam Ant!
    Even though he is considered a human being, by being born and named Stuart Leslie Goddard; the stage essence of Adam Ant is what we have come to know. Also believing that this is what Stuart Wants us to see and believe! But to have any Joe Blow report back on a show is nothing more than a waste of time! When I hear scattering comments about how he is off his rocker or that he needs his medicine for a show… I think to myself that person is truly getting the royal treatment from Adam Ant, because maybe they just DON’T deserve to see him perform!
    Simply put….. They are left no understanding the show and questioning what just happened! Maybe THEY NEED THE MEDICINE AND THEY ARE Off THEIR ROCKERS!!!!!!… Think about that!
    Oh I could go on for eons about the marvels of people’s responses to Adam Ant and in the end… I am always grateful that I have had the extreme pleasure of him showing us “AntMusic”!!!! If I could give anyone … Anything… It would be… Front row and center and just let it be!!!! Be prepared to feel set free!!!!!
    And your mind slightly twisted in a way a human couldn’t expect to be!!!! At least not with some age on us!!!! Adam Ant is truly a spirit of freedom, desire and will!
    Time for more music!!!!!…. Adam!

  5. Aantazy Warrior

    Also adding “as far as Finland?” No mate, farther than that! We came from Disneyland in Anaheim, California in the old USA!!! And as far as picking a fight?!?! Naaaaaaaaaaaa!!! Not Adam Ant!!! Not unless there is a song to be made about passion and warriors and sex!!! Wink wink!

  6. > “were dismissed by the punk cognoscenti as something of a joke band”

    Said “cognoscenti” were music journalists like Nick Kent, NOT actual Punks. Dare you or any other professional music journalist to actually come out and say that straight, tho.

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