It’s about 5 in the morning and Louder Than War receives a text from the King Of The Wild Frontier himself asking if we could get down to London and compere the short notice announced launch party of the re-issued ‘Dirk Wears White Sox’ album at The 100 Club. It’s not the kind of gig you would turn down, especially as it was one that I was keen to go but geography was making tricky.
A swift rearranging of the day and LTW walks into the 100 Club at 7 O’clock and enjoys the legendary venue which is hot and sweaty when packed but has the mystical air of one the last great venues before the crowd enters with the magic dust of history everywhere. This is the stage that the legendary October 1976 punk festival took place on as punk hit the mainstream and the walls are littered with photos of legends in the venue. History is everywhere in this room and it makes it the perfect setting for the launch party of the special and artfully repacked Adam And the Ants Dirk Wears White Sox album.
Backstage Adam is holding court with Barry Lategan the famous photographer who took the iconic first shots of Twiggy back in the sixties as well as a whole host of other famous photos. Barry is 79 now and still sprightly and snapping everything in a series of clicks on an antique camera with a prism lens. LTW does an impromptu photo session with the man and it’s pretty cool to see your face floating through the prism lens and through the eyes of one of the greats.
Adam is in a jovial mood.
The Hammersmith gig last week was a classic — a perfect two hours of rock n roll walking on the tightrope in a way that so few performers dare these days. Tonight is a more low key affair and the audience are relaxed and sat in rows at the front of the stage in a homage to the Elvis ’68 comeback. there had been some talk about this gig being a full on nod to the greatest Elvis gig of them all which Adam explains as the Elvis riposte to the Beatles, kinda like the king saying ‘you think you’re rock n roll? check this out…’
Adam elects not to build a whole boxing ring from the Elvis gig and do the whole 68 comeback thing but there is an aura of Elvis about the whole affair tonight. The return of a statesmen of rock n roll in a sense showing the young guns that sex, style and subversion- that Malcolm Maclaren maxim are still with us.
I deliver my intros ending by telling the audience that Adam has had a teeth job and indeed he walks onstage covering his mouth with a set of Dick Emery style false teeth under his hand, giggling as the crowd peer, not sure whether he’s messing with them or not. After a couple of minutes the teeth come out and the set starts with Adam on his own kicking the night off with Young Parisians. This is a song that doesn’t often get an airing but is still one of my favourite songs from the Ants. It’s brisk, jazzy pop was considered quite surprisingly commercial from a bunch of heavy duty, black leather, rapscallions when it was released but I always loved it – there was something quite sinister about it’s loping, neo french, riffing and the lyrics were neatly off kilter and its command of pure pop was a peep into the future from the time when no-one expected Adam Ant to be anything remotely pop at all.
The band then join him and sit down and ready themselves for a semi acoustic romp through various Dirk and pre Dirk era Ant songs and sit down like the Elvis band for an assured take on Car Trouble with Leigh Gorman on bass, the perfect Yola playing a box instead of drums, Tom Edwards on guitar, Will Crewdson on another guitar and ex Vibrator and former Strangler John Ellis as the special guest on yet another guitar tonight.
Adam and John go back a long way to art school and even beyond that and the Antman has lots of fond words for his comapadre- pointing out that technically the Vibrators released the first single with their Baby Baby in 1976 beating the Damned’s officially recognised New Rose by a crucial few weeks. The history books will always claim the Damned as first though and such things are very blurred with the added caveat of just who or what was punk but the Vibrators certainly had lots of great moments and John is a decent fellow and great guitar player whose CV is pretty packed.
There is a relaxed air tonight as Adam jokes with the band and the crowd and tells stories from his career as a nod to the Elvis ’68 Comeback gig which had a similar vibe to its performance with story telling cutting through the slices of loose and electric rock n roll.
It feels like it’s all spur of the moment and off the cuff as Adam talks about Iggy Pop and meeting him backstage in the punk wars with the great Ig in his own dressing room doing his own stage introductions- ‘ladies and gentlemen…Iggy Pop’ .Adam then plays snatches of No Fun and Buddy Holly’s Peggy Sue pointing out the similarities in the chords between the two songs which seamlessly slip and slide between each other.
Never Trust a Man With Egg On His Face is next up and is full of the beautiful contradictions and genius of the early Ants. It’s dripping with equal parts oddness and melody that still sound like it comes from somewhere else. An anthem from an another universe this is a tightly wound, spindly, scurrying animal of a song that has never aged and sounds super contemporary even now- that’s the power of the Dirk album. We may be at a launch of what is, on paper, a museum piece release but is actually still a missive from the future and songs like this could be straight out of the set list of the current Hoxton hipster art rock band- that’s the power of their vision. The guitars sound great and John Ellis is doing a top job considering he was parachuted into the band at 24 hours notice for this show.
The band deal out a great version of Johny Kidd’s Shaking All Over – a tip of Napoleonic hat to the greatest British rock n roller of the early sixties and a distant creative cousin to the piratical Ant era. The song still shivers and shakes with that dangerous lube of great rock n roll and Adam does a spoken rap in the middle about his arts school days and Alan Jones and his fellow teachers who instructed him in the dark arts of art as sex and the subversion of porn into art- challenging the stuffy, dusty old England which was, ironically, far more dark and perverted behind those drawing room curtains than even the brazen young punks could ever imagine.
The classic Whip In My Valise is announced as a classic love song and was the high point of the Hammersmith set last week, the chorus has never sounded this good and Will’s backing vocals really underline that great counter melody in this celebration of sado masochism- typical of the kind of dark, sex songs that gave Adam his edge in the oddly sexless sexy punk era when everyone seemed to be singing about everything but…
Adam celebrates the genius of Lenny Bruce before they play Red Scab, with the only comedian who could truly describe himself as dangerous, getting the nod of approval from the singer who has always been generous in his acknowledgment of great artists. Red Scab is truly scarey as ever and the band wind it up for Xerox Machine before the set ends and they return for an encore of Phsycial- another of the perfect sex music classic from the early days of the band.
Like all great performances tonight walks the holy tightrope between unpredictable and genius. Nothing feels choreographered as Adam throws shapes in his leathers and his kung fu slippers-this is unapologeticaly rock n n roll but with non of the dumbness. When Adam talks about playing in Bazooka Joe with John Ellis that night in November 1975 and the Sex Pistols turned up to support you can still feel the wide eyed wonder of seeing the future and acknowledging it instead of running away terrified like most people did.
When you watch Adam now you still feel the potent rage of a young Johnny Rotten and yet you still get the perfect bona fide eighties pop star. It’s that fantastic contradiction that was already there with Dirk- an album of off kilter, weird, art school pieces that also sounded like pop songs. You just can’t do this stuff that easily, if at all, and Adam- with his fantastically pure voice was mapping out a new pop terrain all those decades ago- a brave new pop that deserves to be rightly celebrated now in ’14 Comeback…