TVD Live: Adam Ant
at the 9:30 Club, 8/13

PHOTOS: JULIA LOFSTRAND Sometimes you have to do something completely mad to remind yourself you’re still alive. It’s like H.L. Mencken said, “Every normal man must be tempted, at times, to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin slitting throats.” I don’t recommend slitting throats, but I do recommend driving your car at a very high rate of speed, lights off, down a winding two-lane country road on a moonless night. Or cordially inviting your asshole of a boss to defecate in his own mouth. Or walking stark naked into the middle of the street during a violent thunderstorm and screaming, “I am the God of Hellfire!” Or going to an Adam Ant concert.

Did I just say that? On second thought, banish attending an Adam Ant gig from your thoughts; who, even to remind themselves they’re still alive, would do something so utterly non compos mentis? Well, I would. And I did. And I lived to tell about it, even though seeing Adam Ant live ranks number 3 on my list of things I swore I’d never do, just ahead of driving a railroad spike into my left nostril with a jackhammer.

You remember Adam Ant, the guy in the Liechtenstein Navy Admiral’s jacket—and Liechtenstein doesn’t even have a navy, seeing as it’s double-landlocked—who tortured us with “Goody Two Shoes”? Of course you do, although if you’re like me you wish you didn’t. Ant’s career in a nutshell: He formed a band that put out a debut album in 1979, then made the mistake of asking that King of Opportunism, Malcolm McLaren, to be his manager. McLaren promptly responded by filching Ant’s band to form the nucleus of Bow Wow Wow, a real dog of a band.

But undeterred—and you have to admire his pluck—Ant formed a new band and in 1980 recorded Kings of the Wild Frontier, which was a smash and started “Antmania,” a disease of taste for which there is no known cure. Antmania led to Ant People and even afflicted the populace-pandering poobahs who hand out the primo industry prizes; not only were Ant and Company nominated for a 1982 Grammy for Best New Artist, they won the Brit Award that same year for Best British Album. Shame, Brit Awards, shame.

Ant later went the solo route and had some more hits, but his career ended not with a bang but with a whimper, or so we thought, with 1995’s Wonderful. Because despite the fact that we thought Ant had been eradicated forever, along with other blights like smallpox and Sigue Sigue Sputnik, back he’s come, like a New Romantic Zombie, only looking rougher and decidedly piratical in a Johnny Depp kind of way, bearing a new album, Adam Ant Is the Blueblack Hussar in Marrying the Gunner’s Daughter.

And you know what the crazy thing is? He’s improved. Adam Ant Is the Blueblack Hussar isn’t going to garner any Brit awards, and is a mixed affair at best, but the fact that I like ANY of its songs is nothing short of a miracle. Granted, it boasts some real stinkers like “Who’s a Goofy Bunny?” (what do you expect with a title like that, Nick Cave?), “Valentines,” “Darlin’ Boy,” and the pretty but utterly wrong (as in creepy duffer panting after young poon) “Punkyoungirl,” which includes the immortal couplet, “Lift up your skirt/Let me lick your alphabet.”

That said, I actually enjoy the slide-guitar-inflected ersatz country of “Cool Zombie,” the noise-guitar-heavy “Shrink,” the melodic country shuffle of “How Can I Say I Miss You?,” the very noisy and propulsive “Bullshit,” and the very pretty “Vivienne’s Tears” (which is very reminiscent of, as in I think he stole its melody, Donovan’s “Atlantis”). “Dirty Beast” and “Cradle Your Hatred” aren’t half-bad either.

Gone are the wacky, hyperactive percussion, the annoying horn arrangements, the childlike, sing-song ant-themed ditties, and the white painted line across his face. His music isn’t so desperately eager to be catchy or full of dumb catchphrases–why, Ant sounds all grown up. And I can honestly say I prefer some of his new songs to anything by such hipster faves as Ra Ra Riot, or Beach House for that matter.

Listening to the new album made me wonder: was it possible I’d been wrong about Ant’s earlier work? Perhaps, thunk I, it’s time for a reevaluation of the Antman’s eighties’ music. So I girded my loins and turned on The Very Best of Adam and the Ants–no way was I going to listen to his five solo albums or three Adam and the Ants LPs–but other than a handful of tunes I was right back where I started—namely, I don’t think members of the family Formicidae should be allowed to make music. Why, just listening to “Strip” gave me the heebie-jeebies, and I would sooner be staked to a nest of Australian Bulldog ants than listen to “Puss ‘n Boots” ever again.

Anyway, I approached the 9:30 Club on Tuesday, August 13 to see what Ant has dubbed the Adam Ant & the Good, the Mad & the Lovely Posse Tour, only to see a familiar figure looking very Byronic and lonely at the rear of the club. And I’ll be damned if it wasn’t Adam Ant in person. I couldn’t resist asking him, “‘Goody Two Shoes’ has always intrigued me. You don’t drink, don’t smoke–so what do you do?” “The eternal question,” answered Ant with a sigh. “It’s been following me my whole life. The honest answer? I collect Schwibbogen candle arches. Everyone thought I meant sex. Sex! The very idea! What is sex next to a Schwibbogen candle arch? Their exquisite form, their beauty…” He would have talked forever, I think, about candle arches had I not interrupted to inform him it was show time. Parting, he said, “Sex. How jejune. Schwiboggen candle arches!”

Anyway, I got inside just in time to see Ant trot onto stage dressed like an ant pirate in a dumb hat, mustard yellow antique military vest, and glasses, and the nearly full house—which varied from tiny lasses to lots of middle-aged folk, the men dressed in khakis and button-down shirts and the women dressed for who knows what—went ant. Mr. Ant’s band featured two drummers he introduced as Andy and Yola, a bass guitarist named Joe, and a guitarist (I think) named Tom. Presumably ants don’t have last names.

Ant opened with “Marrying the Gunner’s Daughter,” one of six songs he performed off his latest LP. “Gunner’s Daughter” was good, what with its uptemo beat and hard rock guitars, and Ant even did a little goofy, club-footed dancing; he could be the worst dancer since Bruce Springsteen, but you have to admire him for not caring. New one “Hard Men Tough Blokes” was also excellent, really fast and with a good chorus, in which the guitarists echoed Ant’s “Hard men!” and “Tough blokes!” “Shrink,” a veritable noise-fest off the new LP, was disappointingly listless and noise-free live, although Ant let out a few great screams and generally reminded me of a bile-free John Lydon. Newbie “Vince Taylor,” a paean to the late frontman of The Playboys, was disappointingly nondescript and featured a limping melody, although the crowd danced to it so who knows. “Stay in the Game” was similarly disappointing, what with its sickly guitar solo and Ant staggering about the stage. Finally the band performed “Cool Zombie,” which was excellent, what with its nice slide guitar, propulsive and catchy melody, and Ant’s forceful vocals.

Naturally the audience was there to hear Ant’s old classics, and he didn’t disappoint. He played the ballad “Wonderful,” which he called “the only love song I’ve ever written in my life.” And it was actually quite pretty and likeable, unlike “Whip in My Valise,” about which he said, “I did write another kind of love song, only people didn’t think it was a love song.” I expected to like it because everyone loves S&M, even my mom, but I didn’t; whereas I didn’t expect to like “Antmusic” but actually did, because despite its shitty guitar solo it featured some classic Ant drumming and a chorus as catchy as an ant glue trap. I also really liked “Zerox,” which was the hardest rocker of the night and had Ant spitting out the lyrics and the two drummers sounding like two drummers instead of just one, as they did too often during the evening. I also loved encore “Red Scab,” a simple but timeless “I Love Rock’n’Roll”-type number which featured chunky power chords, huge drums, and a beat you could ant to. I also liked “Press Darlings,” with its throbbing riff, primitive but seductive melody, and Ant’s vocals, which again brought to mind John Lydon sans the leer and sneer.

Encore “Physical (You’re So)” was good and not good, by which I mean the verses were excellent but the choruses brought back painful memories of the heyday of Olivia Newton John, and I would sooner think about starving babies in Africa with bloated tummies than about Olivia Newton John. I disliked “Prince Charming” because it sounded so horribly 80s and was nothing but lots of thump thump thump and the words “Don’t You Ever” repeated about 800 times. As for “Cleopatra” I liked the way Ant sang “Cleopatra” and that was about it; it didn’t have much of a melody, and a middle-aged woman right behind me kept wolf-whistling and emitting hyena-like screams, and it was everything I could do not to hurl her over the balcony. Nor did I like “Strip,” which also sounded a lot like the recorded version, so I could actually discern its stupid lyrics; it was the first song of the evening that actually caused a flare-up of my Adam Ant-inflicted PTSD, and I had to sneak into the bathroom and call my shrink, who along with six valium calmed me down. As for “Desperate But Not Serious,” which got the hard rock treatment like so many of his oldies, I liked it a lot, especially its chorus, even if it did feature a lukewarm at best instrumental break.

“Vive Le Rock” was a dumb rock song with a dumb melody and dumb lyrics even Bernie Taupin would be ashamed of, and was almost enough to make me give up rock for jazz, classical, or even that loathsome Harry Convict Jr. fellow, who will only sing a song if a panel of experts agrees it blows chunks. Whereas I liked “Beat My Guest,” a much better S&M song than “Whip in My Valise” what with its chorus of “Beat me” and its very catchy melody. I also liked “Dog Eat Dog” with its drums doing that old school Adam and the Ants syncopated thang and its great hard rock riff. I wasn’t so crazy about “Stand and Deliver,” which even all tarted up in hard rock make-up couldn’t disguise its irksome eighties’ lineage. I disliked “Room at the Top” for the same reason; it was a dumb pop song with inane lyrics pumped up by the steroids of loud guitars, but bulked up or not it still smelled wrong.

Nor did I like “Kings of the Wild Frontier.” It was a too-long be-bop-a-lula type of tune, but it didn’t move me melodically despite some great Ant screams (who knew ants could scream?) and more of that unique Ant drumming. Who knows: I might have liked it more had hyena-shriek woman behind me not started to dance like she was riding a horse, which is something no human being should ever do unless forced to at gunpoint by a homicidal drifter. I did like “Never Trust a Man With Egg on His Face,” although I’m hard pressed to say whether all I really liked was the title. In my notebook I wrote, as Ant (who picked up the guitar on multiple occasions) played a raw punk riff, “I like it, but I think I really just like the title, but still I think I like it,” which even leaves me confused. As for “Car Trouble” I definitely liked it, what with its happening hard rock opening, fast tempo, neat-o melody, and nice unison vocals. I guess I liked “Ants Invasion,” which boasted a high-pitched and ominous opening guitar riff, Ant’s falsetto, excellent drum thump, and the way Ant sang “Oh no no/The ants invasion” over and over again. I was similarly ambivalent about “Kick!,” which opened with some cool drumming and featured lots of modified yodeling and a tres cool sustained guitar riff.

I half-liked the medley “Lady/Fall-In”; “Lady” came with some of the stupidest lyrics I’ve ever heard and a bad melody (or perhaps I should say no melody), while “Fall-In” was a punk rocker and very propulsive and featured Ant singing “7-6-5-4-3-2-1” (perhaps his smartest lyrics of the night) as well as some nice “bop-shoo-ops” at the end. Which leaves us with “Goody Two Shoes,” which Ant made no attempt to recast in hard rock trappings but performed in its original version, which made it, ironically enough, both the most awful and most honest song of the evening. It was all drums and Ant did a weird foot-stomping dance, and I thought I could survive it but finally retreated to the bathroom and plunged my head into the toilet, which was hardly hygienic but allowed me to hear, blessedly, nothing.

In the end, I would recommend the show only to hardcore Ant People; that said, I enjoyed a decent portion of it, and certainly would rather go see Ant than, say, Bad Religion, or other melodic punkers of their ilk. I truly enjoyed some of his old songs live, despite the fact he couldn’t write a decent lyric to save his mandibles. And—maybe this is the inevitable effect of the passage of time—I’m beginning to hear the good in Ant’s music, rather than just the awful and inane, just like I woke up one day loving the Carpenters.

Hopefully he’ll continue to produce new material, because anybody who likes S&M and collects Schwiboggen candle arches can’t be all that much of a goody two shoes, whatever the horrible song says.

OPENERS, PRIMA DONNA:

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  • Sterno

    Holy gods, the horror…the horror. 
    But thanks for the review!

  • Jay

    Maybe I was in the minority but I loved Bow Wow Wow 🙂

  • Michael Little

    Jay, thanks for writing. And I owe you a sincere apology. Truth is I haven’t listened to Bow Wow Wow for years, and they could be great for all I know. That “dog of a band” comment was something I wrote simply to be catty and funny. But I think I’ll try to curb such impulses in the future. I would be the first person to admit I have no idea what I’m talking about, and such cheap shots certainly don’t help. In any event, keep on loving them. Yr pal, Mike

  • Karen Gilmartin

    Ffs, nearly pissed myself laughing at some of this guy’s comments. I loved bit about him shoving his head into toilet bowl. Shoulda left it there mate. Oh well you were very brave to risk anything so alien to your sensibilities. Now trot off to safety of your home and listen to some nice soothing Carpenters to get you over shock. Leave AA and co to those who appreciate them

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