Beau Sejour, Guernsey
1st May 2013
Adam Ant heads for the Channel Islands. It’s fun – in a good way, including for people who like stripped down guitar music, and don’t really do theatre, like Nicky Gee.
To be honest I wasn’t quite sure if I was going to enjoy this much. Reports of Adam Ant’s festival appearances last year had been less than complimentary, and the cost of the £32 (!) ticket had burned a deep hole in the pocket. Not being a diehard fan I was going partly out of curiosity, partly because it was a gig I could walk to, but mainly because Adam had last played here in 1981, just after the Kings of the Wild Frontier album had taken him right up to the zenith of his popularity…. resulting in a level and type of adulation more associated with the likes of, say, JLS in the last few years.
That might be difficult to countenance now, but even then, the meteoric rise was no less perplexing for those who accepted at face-value the initial underground art-punk imagery, the close association with the Pistols, the whips and leather fetishism, the flirting with a mid-20th century European decadence …. a sound and look right from the same vein as an early Siouxsie and the Banshees. And then now there’s the new album, a range of styles with an avowedly back-to-basics, almost demo-level production. So… I have no idea who’s going to turn up tonight, original proto-punk, over-produced-pirate-prince-charming, or… what?
The venue is woefully unsuited – a big hall in a sports complex that’s fit for its purpose, only this isn’t it. A temporary stage sits at an awkward angle across the room. I arrive late and miss the first couple of tracks, go to the bar first and the sound from the back is awful. I get a plastic glass of lager, and work my way to the front. And I’m stood there thinking, hmm…. well, actually, after a few seconds, I’m stood there thinking that this is pretty good really….. The sound is better. The band play well. And they look good. And not in the TOTP video sort of way that you saw from Adam and the Ants at their peak. No, in an understated way – Adam in his Napoleonic tunic and hat and specs – but somehow not in a naff way, just as if this was usual, normal, to be expected, and backed with the trademark two drummers, bass and guitar, plus additional female vocals – which gently enhanced the sound and made you wonder what it would have given to the Ants of old.
Having convinced myself we were in for volley after volley from Kings’ and Prince Charming, chock full of too-much over-the-top treble guitar, with some other bits and pieces dropped in here and there…. it turns out to be nothing like that. Nothing like that at all. The set is great… I want to come up with stronger praise, but I won’t because I’m conscious that it’s too subjective, a judgement too imbued with a sense of history and context getting in the way… The first half of the set lifts plenty of songs from the new album, the best of which is the humid-deep-south pastiche of single Cool Zombie… The second half is more about the early singles and B sides, Dirk Wears White Sox outings, and dotted throughout are the ‘hits’, which from the number of white-striped noses in the audience is what many here are here hoping for… as if the first gig was an epoch-defining defining moment that they have been long-waiting to revisit. The set hangs together and flows well. And through sheer coincidence and no planning or intent, the sports centre venue with its youth-clubby overtones actually starts to make sense – ‘here’s your environment – now carve out your space in it’.
The songs are classics. It’s three minute buzzsaw tracks, good and sharp. The playing is taut. The guitar is scratchy, occasionally in a slowed-down-sub-Spiral Scratch kind of way – this is good. It doesn’t look or feel like pantomime. It’s fun in a good way, including for people who like stripped down guitar music, and don’t really do theatre. So after Cleopatra from the first album we get Zerox, played with the same insistent metronome guitar line as the original single version, followed by Vive Le Rock, then Antmusic. The bloke shouting for Car Trouble gets his wish. The one shouting for Young Parisians doesn’t, but the single’s B-side, Lady, opens as one of the various encores, before it segues into Fall In, maybe my alltime favourite Adam song, and it’s, like, 1-2-3-4, and, yep, respect – another smile brought to my face! We are also treated to Press Darlings (‘We depress the press darlings’), an appropriate metaphor for Adam Ant’s career. Never got much decent press, and when the tribes went their different ways (Anarcho, Oi!, Thrash/Hardcore, what would become Goth, etc), the guy showed some ingenuity, imagination, and balls, and went out and did his own thing in his own way.
Some of it (Prince Charming), may sound forever truly cringeworthy. But this was a good set – I hesitate to use the word ‘show’ – it had more substance. I understand why people may not have liked the festival performances – a place that wasn’t dark and intimate (or a youth club hall with fans able to create some intimacy) would have been completely the wrong environment. Dark songs from the old days, as well as new numbers like the excellent Shrink dealing with Adam’s demons of depression, with a sound and feel reminiscent of early Nine Inch Nails, aren’t there to be swept away by the wind and the open air, but to be heard somewhere like this.
Understated, not a lot of swagger, just good songs, tunes, and a good, reflective, night out. Sometimes, ridicule is nothing to be scared of.
All words by Nicky Gee. More work by Nicky on Louder Than War can be found here.