Adam Ant : Hammersmith Apollo : live review
In what could be the final show of part one the great comeback and before work starts on the new album Adam Ant delivers a gig of very much two musical halves. One half as the underground icon and the second, after a costume change, the early eighties metal guru superstar.
The basic facts kinda tell the story- a packed Hammersmith Apollo is part of the triumph along with the band that incorporates the killer (in the home!) Rhythm section of Dave Barbe and Leigh Gorman- finally back in the fold since their audacious walk out all those years ago that sparked the Ants invasion in a way that neither side had planned.
They sound great tonight and the twin drum rumble has never sounded better and Leigh Gorman is such a great bass player- this is the rhythm section and the best Adam has surely every employed. Dirk sounds as subversive as ever but if fleshed out by band to something huge and off kilter. Adam’s voice is remarkably unchanged and sounds as pure as ever.
The second half of the set is a run through the greatest hits- the multicoloured jukebox of eighties pop that still packed a simmering tension and artful edge that non of his chart contemporaries could claim- even on the shinier hits like Goody Two Shoes still had something far more odd and audaciously artful than chart rivals Spandau Ballet and Dullard Duran could ever muster and a watching Kevin Rowland from the Dexys must have been nodding in approval at, what is, a fellow traveller through the maze of pop.
These are the hits that the good time, neo – hen party end of the audience have come for and this is not a BAD THING. There is no fear of pop here just a belief that pop can be a little more interesting than the usual stuff- this is pop like Marc Bolan understood and the godlike Marc is a handy guide to this affair with both him and Adam emerging blinking from their respective generational undergrounds and having to go through the crappy shouts of ‘sell out’ from aggrieved media as they spent a few years at the top before burn out and resurrection – luckily for Adam he lived to see his own comeback whereas Marc died before he was reassessed as one of the great British musical geniuses. When Adam plays Get It On tonight as a tribute to the glam king it’s more than tip of a hat to the great Bolan.
The first half of tonight’s set examines those aforementioned early years and the deliciously strange Dirk Wears White Sox album which was the ultimate punk rock statement after the Pistols had burned out and the record that was seen by many at the time as the last great album from the real class of 77 and a document of the dark strangeness of the moment that was somehow both avant garde and total pop.
A record like this was always going to attract extreme opinions – snubbed by the mainstream yet loved vehemently by the underground the album was embraced by the punk survivors and especially the Antfans- the freaky fraternity and the coterie of hardcore music heads who dressed to kill and followed the band round the country revelling in the confrontation with the misunderstanding locals. One of them- scouse loon and all round good egg, Boxhead, points to his missing teeth and explains decades later- ‘these three I lost in Huddersfield and those two in Swansea’- an hour later I spy him in the heart of the moshpit pushing people in mosh action like the last three and half decades never happened lost in a moment of Dirkness. Later on he is joined by more veterans from those days of punk rock border raids – legendary underground faces who were so brilliantly documented in Tom Vague’s Vague fanzine at the time and have returned not because of nostalgia but because Adam has somehow still got the edge that so many rock n rollers lose.
That this is not the Blue Black Hussar but a revaluation of a more angular Adam is quickly apparent as the leathered up Dirk takes the stage- this is the black leather droog that was as much Jim Morrison, Hamburg Beatles if Stu Sutcliffe had survived and ran the band and Marc Bolan with a sneer as well as the sex, style and subversion of Malcolm McClaren’s Sex shop with a touch of Johny Rotten’s nihilistic staring eyes and the iconoclastic Pistols with a juju all of its own- you just don’t get to see that sort of stuff much these days but there it is- it is Adam as Dirk, Dirk as Adam.
This is a history lesson- a peak into the time when rock n roll mattered, before it was reduced to the comfortable pantomime of the now. This is a rock n roll from a time when it was unpredictable and a bit dangerous and this is/was the Dirk era Ants.
Just who is this Dirk character?
The first half of tonight’s show is a peak back into the very heart of the punk period and one of its more fascinating creations. This was a time when punk itself had no formulae. This was a real Wild West. A real wild frontier if you will! and there was no template and as Adam Ant explains tonight he was more likely to be listening to Miles Davies than have anything to do with ‘oi oi oi’ – not that any style was invalid – each one was an expression of the circumstance and Adam’s circumstance was unlike any other- his was a highly individualistic plea right from the heart of the big bang of punk. He was there when the Sex Pistols played their first gig at St Martins Art College, he was playing bass in the headline band Bazooka Joe.
When Adam looked into Johnny Rotten’s eyes that night he saw the future and created his own version of it. That moment is recreated here tonight- that moment of chaotic energy and creativity that made punk but remembered that it was a type of pop music is revisited right now and has lost non of its raw power.
Of course punk itself because a genre many years ago- a musical form within very tight parameters but in its initial period it was unformed and the debut Adam And The Ants album is a prime example of this with its bizarre combination of free jazz, art school rock and fifties rock n roll served up with a punk rock iconoclasm and dark humour. As Adam Ant plays though the album tonight it quickly becomes apparent that this is, maybe, the ultimate art school Brit rock album- far stranger and more inventive than even the Eno led early Roxy Music and a template for every painter turned rocker in the decades since then.
It’s a testament to its brutal beauty that the record hasn’t aged at all and the run through the album could be the latest set from the latest band of artful dodgers tearing at the fabric of just what rock music can be.
Frequently misunderstood and hated by the press the Ants debut is one of the few albums that justifies the term seminal and as Adam takes on the Dirk persona to deliver the album he is full of the confrontation of the late seventies and he is freaking out the slack critics who still don’t get it all the years later. A recent review from a gig in Yoevil that was picked up for some bizarre reason by the Daily Telegraph has irked him but he won’t swear, he say, because his others here at the gig tonight. It’s a lazy piece of writing and hackneyed idea of the mystery of the Antman. If you come to this affair expecting the 80s pop star for the full set you will be sorely confused and that the beauty of this exercise.
The highlight of the first half of the set is a perfect version of Whip In My Valise- the early song that had everything you needed to know about the band from its whiff of scandalous lyrics, pulp paperback sex and anthemic chorus kicking in after the cascading guitars. Initially a thrashy and fast song it was slowed down to the bump n grind final version and is the perfect hinge for the set as it moves from the Dirk period to the hits.
Adam chnages his outfit from behind a theatrical screen – apiece of amusing theatre and emerges as the King of the Wild Frontier as the hits cascade out from the Ant Music to Dog Eat Dog which is the best version I’ve ever heard with that rhythm section really flying to a touching Wonderful and a little played Strip. He plays Vive le Rock – the hit that should have been and brings on Boz Boorer on acoustic to flesh out the songs and add to the super Ants band- the only thing wrong with tonight is that they don’t play anything from the recent album but that’s not the object of the exercise I guess. Shame as Vince Taylor with Boz on guitar would have fitted perfectly…
As Red Scab fades away- the room is drained in a post coital sense- this has been a classic gig.
Where this all goes from here is down to Adam…there is the new album to record in LA and it’s all wide open now- it sounds like there is a big producer involved but it’s early days yet.
One thing for sure- it certainly won’t be boring…