Written by Laura Hamlett Tuesday, 16 October 2012 20:41
In terms of his set list, Adam Ant delivered a show beyond my wildest dreams.
Cubby Bear, Chicago
I’d been waiting a long time for this show.
Wait. Scratch that. I’d been waiting eight months. Prior to February, when I learned about Adam Ant’s fall U.S. tour, I hadn’t thought I’d see him live again. That didn’t stop me from listening to his albums (I’m particularly partial to the Adam & the Ants material, especially the lesser-known tracks).
Driving to Chicago for the show, we decided to make a game of it. We put on Antbox: The Definitive Adam & the Ants Collection. (And when it says “definitive,” it means, “there’s some pretty obscure shit here.” Which is awesome.) We ranked each song that came on, 1 through 10, as to how likely it was we’d hear it that night. I gave some songs twos—“Christian D’or” and “Beat My Guest,” among them—just because I wanted to hear them, not because I thought he’d play them.
Happily, I was wrong. Not only did I hear the above-mentioned favorites, but I heard a lot, lot, lotta Adam & the Ants material, some of which had never seen proper album release. Hell, he opened the show with “Plastic Surgery.” How many of you fans out there can say you know that song? (I do. Thanks, Antbox!)
In terms of his set list, Adam Ant delivered a show beyond my wildest dreams. (My only bitterness came from the lack of “B-Side Baby”—yeah, yeah, I know; I want the world. But it’s a crime this song never saw a proper release; it’s truly one of his best.) He (stood and) delivered just one shy of 30 songs, playing for nearly two hours to the long-sold-out room, children of the ’80s who had waited 17 years for this night.
Yet, my reviewer brain kicked in mid-set. What was missing? Why was I not singing along, as I should have been?
And then it hit me. Engagement. There was none. Neither between Adam and the audience, nor between Adam and his band. He rarely made eye contact with anyone in the crowd, preferring instead to look to the side, turn his back, or stare at some spot in the back of the room, over everyone’s heads. He never jammed with anyone in his band. Hell, he had a sexy young thing come out to sing backup and dance provocatively. She was perfect, perfect for his show—and he barely acknowledged her presence.
It took eight songs for Ant to greet his audience, and even then, it was just two words: “Good evening.” Of course, by that point, we’d already heard “Dog Eat Dog,” “Stand and Deliver,” “Ants Invasion,” and “Car Trouble,” so nobody was complaining. Two songs later, during the always brilliant “Kings of the Wild Frontier,” he unbuttoned his jacket and ruffled shirt to reveal an old-school Adam Ant t-shirt, which he then ripped from the neck. (Was he telling us he was in on the joke by having scrawled “XL” on the image?)
Ready to feel old, Ant-fans? Next month, Adam Ant will turn 58. And for 58 he looks pretty damn good. But the last time we in America saw him, he was 17 years younger, still riding the wave of the sexy rock star. So the return to Ants-era pirate gear—with long curls, facial hair, black glasses, and a crazy, oversized pirate hat—was, yes, appropriate (this was an homage to old-school Adam & the Ants, after all), yet perhaps a bit age-inappropriate.
Still, there were flashes of the twenty-something pop idol. At one point, he shot the audience an intense, almost come-hither look, grit his teeth, and spun around, evoking dance moves of old. And his voice was every bit as strong as ever. He hit the falsetto on “Wonderful” like nobody’s business, and sounded great as he sang well-familiar lines. But he sometimes took vocal shortcuts, eliminating some of the accents we’ve grown used to on his recordings. Maybe he didn’t have the breath he used to.
Maybe, but it came off as slightly lazy. As did, truthfully, the whole night. Adam was disengaged, affectless, emotionless. He stood at the mic stand more often than not, only occasionally taking a few steps back, or to either side of the stage. Although he threw in some dance moves during “Strip,” his timing seemed to be off. And during “Goody Two Shoes,” he looked almost tired.
Since his last tour, Adam Ant was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, for which he has received treatment. This makes no difference, really, except that, with this detached performance, it seemed, honestly, as if his meds were too high, his moods leveled to the point of apathy. If this was the case, then kudos to Ant for undertaking this tour at all, as his motivation—and enjoyment—are probably close to nil.
He talked to us a couple times, telling us that every time he played “Kings of the Wild Frontier” was like the first time; it meant so much to him. “Wonderful,” he said, “was my first and only attempt at a love song.” He coyly introduced the next song, the S&M-themed “Whip in My Valise,” with “This is another kind of love song—the kind you find in Fifty Shades of Gray.” Prior to “Prince Charming” during the encore, Ant said, “Seeing as it’s so hot in here, we’re gonna do a nice little ballad for you to go home and hold hands to.”
Ant has written and recorded a new album, mouth-fillingly entitled Adam Ant Is the Blueblack Hussar in Marrying the Gunner’s Daughter. His February U.S. tour was postponed until this month to allow for the delayed release of the disc…and it’s been pushed back again, until early 2013. I expected a smattering of new songs tonight, but got just one, which Ant introduced as “Vince Taylor.” It fit right in to the set, meaning that it sounded like old-school Adam Ant—and that it is a must-buy when it comes out.
The opening bad was a schtick-y duo who called themselves the Brothers Brazil: a bossa nova-style guitarist with a near pompadour and a sharp, red suit; and a bleach-blond, spiky-haired punk rock drummer wrapped in a Union Jack shirt and kilt. True, it was campy and funny—but it was, honestly, the only act that could have preceded Adam Ant, and kept his audience engaged. | Laura Hamlett
Dog Eat Dog
Beat My Guest
Stand and Deliver
Room at the Top
Kings of the Wild Frontier
Whip in My Valise
Desperate but not Serious
Never Trust a Man (with Egg on His Face)
Goody Two Shoes
Vive le Rock
Get It On/20th Century Boy
Photos: Laura Hamlett
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