Manchester Bridgewater Hall
photo : Michael Sanderson
It’s the gathering of the Ant clans – the old punks from the post punk wars, the grown up eighties pop kids, the curious and the curiosities – some dressed a pirates, some with the obligatory white stripe, whilst some come as they are packing out the Bridgewater Hall for the the first of two nights of Ant celebration.
The hardest working man in showbiz, Adam Ant, is back out again for another tour and this times’ angle is a greatest hits package. This is no mere perfunctory run though of a pretty impressive back catalogue of hits though. With the usual high level of intensity from the frontman, this feels urgent and raw and cutting edge. If intensity was one of the defining phrases from the post punk period then the frontman still uses it as a measure of his performance making this pop music plus, a pop music that is full of classic hooks and artful twists and turns but also cranked with a rare intense, emotional, sinew snapping rush that gives it a real urgency. There can be few performers from the eighties who play a show like this and feel like they are a new band. Perhaps its the music’s timelessness or perhaps its the passion that is put into the performance but there is something quite different about this show.
Support band are LA’s Glam Skanks who magi to create a firebrand rock n roll show in a half full theatre with an audience finding their seats – the toughest challenge for any opening act. The all girl band play a tough rush of searing rock n roll that sits somewhere between the Runaways and mid seventies proto punk swagger and they play it well.
With a long run of A sides and some B sides from an extensive catalogue Adam Ant has taken the opportunity to give some of his later singles a blowtorch treatment with his band that is brimming with confidence and power with a new guitar player replacing the much missed late Tom Edwards doing a great job whilst Will Crewdson spins and swaggers like he was born to be an Ant. Adam himself looks in great shape, with his dandy boater and all black look his is still flamboyant but dressed down from his Kings tour , he looks sharp and like he means business and defies time with the air of someone half his age. He also owns the stage.
There are several phases of Adam from the early underground days to the art pop breakthrough to his solo hits – several styles of Ant that he has moulded into one seamless set with a band that is razor tight.
The well documented early songs like Dog Eat Dog and Kings Of the Wild Frontier have always sounded great in the studio and on the stage and are anthemic and bold as ever tonight whilst later pop hits fit perfectly and are given new nuances – the key to tonight is just how good some of those unexplored later hits now sound live. Whilst he has played it several times in recent years, Prince Charming sounds defiant and forboding all at once – the ultimate empowering anthem and a song that sounds like classic pop and yet with heavy darkness in its post glam drones, Desperate But Not Serious is a real stand out with a dark and heavy edge, Apollo 9 and Vive Le Rock are swaggering and enthralling – cranked up with a high octane rush and a sex that defies the decades whilst Friend Or Foe finds a power and menace whilst the pure pop of Puss n Boots sounds like a powerful anthem with a searing off kilter edge – it was alway a good song but cranked up and placed in the middle of this set you get to realise what a fantastic piece of manic, imaginative and edgy pop this really was.
Watching the songs live gives you a perspective on their complexity and originality – some of the vocal interplay is astonishing – layers of backing vocals and phrases and chants entwining into a whole, the twin drummer thing that Adam Ant has made his own and taken to nth degree – a powerful and intoxicating rumble – it’s a whole rhythm and beat of its own – his trademark of course but also one of the key defining rhythm patterns of the decade.
It’s not all thunderous anthems of course – they deal out a faithful version of the divine Young Parisians – the debut single that caught everyone out all those years ago with its jazzy Gauloise Frenchness when we were expecting something dark and delicious and yet it still remains one of his great songs – intangible and downright odd as well as intoxicating and melodic, Wonderful is as affecting as ever – a love song in the middle of the warrior anthems.
Adam himself is, of course, the consummate showman but seems even more connected to his adoring audience than usual, he feels the celebration, he doesn’t have to prove anything – these songs are some of the great pop moments of the eighties as well as prime examples of how art and pop can be combined into something more than oafish conveyer belt pop.
Where he goes next is open to conjecture. These theatre shows celebrating the catalogue make sense – he has done a great job in being the custodian of his own legacy – the repackages of the the first two albums live and in box sets have been artful and lovingly done and Prince Charming is sat there waiting for the same kind of treatment and is an album that begs for a revisit – with perhaps a reconstruction with his current killer band. On the other hand the rumoured new album from a couple of years ago is still enticing – even its title, Bravest Of The Brave, made it sound intriguing and thrilling – there are many different moves to be made but at the moment we have this triumphant celebration of one of the great back catalogues to embrace.