Thursday, June 02, 2011
Adam Ant @ Birmingham Academy, Wednesday 1st June 2011
If you’re under 30 I guess it’s difficult to appreciate just how big Adam Ant was back in the early 80’s. For a few brief years he was one of the biggest pop stars around, responsible for a series of truly unique singles, videos and images (who hasn’t daubed tipex across their nose at some point eh?). Then, let’s face it, it all went tits up. Big time. The music was forgotten by most people and Adam Ant became a deeply, deeply troubled man. For anyone who remembers the thrill of those records and his wildly OTT Top Of The Pops performances it was all a bit heartbreaking really. There was, it seemed, absolutely no hope. Enforced periods in facilities for the mentally ill didn’t seem to do much good and promised live dates or releases failed to materialise. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, he suddenly popped up and played a few low key live gigs last year. Looking at the clips on You Tube it’s fair to say that they weren't all wildly successful. It’s worth raking over all this stuff again just to give tonight’s gig some context. Here’s a guy who spent 7 years as a zombie, dosed up to the eyeballs on anti-depressants (“Unable to fuck” he informs us this evening). His last tour happened nearly 20 years ago and his heyday was 10 years before that. What the hell could we honestly expect from tonight eh?
The first surprise was the crowd. The place (which holds around 3000 people) was packed out, a mix of old punks, 80’s pop fans and the mildly curious...here to see a car crash perhaps? They’d be disappointed. I’m not sure how he pulled it off but this could be one of the greatest comebacks since Lazarus fancied having a walkabout. Looking like Captain Jack Sparrow’s older brother Adam bounds on stage and launches straight into one of his earliest songs, Plastic Surgery (taken from Derek Jarman’s 1977 film, Jubilee). Yep, before all the hits and appearances on kid’s TV shows Adam Ant was, of course, a full on punk (his first band, Bazooka Joe, were supported by some blokes called the Sex Pistols...playing their first ever gig in 1975...wonder what happened to them?). This early punk period is clearly where Adam’s heart still lies and whilst tonight he played pretty much every big hit they were all shot through with that same snarling sense of energy. For almost two hours Adam plundered his metaphorical treasure chest of tunes and, with each passing song, you could see the years fall away and the self confidence grow. Still capable of pulling off those trademark Ant twirls and thigh slaps it was (cliché alert) 'almost like he’d never been away'. He got chattier...and cattier...as the night wore on too. On bands who haven’t paid their dues: “You’ve got guys with two hits touring stadiums? Fuck that, I work for a living”. On Bob Geldof and/or Bono...it was difficult to tell: “Fuck off you sanctimonious Irish cunt” (it applies to both of them I guess). On hecklers in the audience: “Fuck off I’m talking...I can turn this mic up and really hurt you!” Marvellous stuff and such a refreshing change from bland between song banter eh? It seems that his Live Aid snub (his set was cut short to just one song to allow Geldof to play) still rankles over a quarter of a century later. He chose to play his new single ‘Vive Le Rock’ that fateful day and, given the unfamiliarity of the track perhaps, his slot failed to have the career enhancing impact that other artists enjoyed. Shame. You can’t help thinking “What if...” He played Vive Le Rock again this evening anyway and reminded us all that it was actually a cracking tune, especially in its snarly punk rock incarnation.
After blazing through everything from the more cult stuff like Beat My Guest, Car Trouble and (Never Trust A Man) With Egg On His Face and the biggies, Stand and Deliver, Ant Music and Goody Two Shoes, the first encore had to be Prince Charming. Adam whipped off his shirt to reveal an Adam Ant vest (available from the merch desk, naturally)and shimmied across the stage like a man half his age whilst large chunks of the crowd did that crossed arms thing...proving that ridicule is indeed still nothing to be scared of. Leaving the stage someone throws a red rose to him and Adam picks it up before gripping it in his teeth and posing like a lothario. The crowd still weren’t done with him though, so a second encore kicked off with a spirited cover of T-Rex’s Get It On. Finally there was just time for another snarling put down. “Trent Reznor covered this song and nicked my money. Fucking arsehole”. With that he launched into Physical, ripping his vest in two to reveal a surprisingly trim looking tum. Pausing only to check his watch (I’m sure he’d have played on if there wasn’t an 11pm curfew) and bask for a second or two in the rapturous applause he left the stage for the last time having put any lingering doubts about his ability to perform well and truly to bed.
If you were there expecting Adam Ant POP STAR then there’s a chance you might not have ‘got it’. Yes, he’s a little confrontational, sure, he has a bit of a mad stare in his eyes and, okay, he’s dressed like a extra from Pirates of the Caribbean, but if you tuned in to his original incarnation as a PUNK ROCKER tonight was simply a wet dream of a gig. Truly Ant-tastic.