Adam Ant: still the King of the Wild Frontier

Stuart Goddard has no intention of going old gracefully. At 62, Goddard, better known to the world as Adam Ant, has had to decide if he’s going to plough the easy, but boring, legacy-act furrow, and smartly, he’s chosen not to, instead managing to turn that least original of show concepts, an album revival, into a modern, youthful and entirely relevant event.

At Auckland’s Powerstation last night, Adam Ant played to a less-than-packed house, those punters who were in attendance almost all old enough to remember seeing Adam And The Ants on Top Of The Pops all those years ago, or pop videos with Diana Dors. Some of his band, on the other hand, looked young enough to be the children of the TotP audience, and therein lay the strength of the show.

Ant himself is old enough to be ready for a sit down and a cup of Horlicks, but he’s clearly not quite ready for that yet. His voice, a gloriously camp howl and rasp, is as arch and as rich as ever it was, and while he’s wisely backed off a little on the snake-hipped wiggles, there are still shades, echoes, of the figure that so captivated thirty and forty years ago. Gone is the white stripe across the exhibition-quality cheekbones, but the brocade jacket is still firmly in place. Ant skips and pirouettes his way across the stage, stopping oddly and abruptly to throw shapes that don’t quite match up with the beat of the music, the effect oddly jarring. Coupled with a distinct hint of not-too-distant madness in eyes that are perfectly framed by eyeliner, Ant’s look for the evening is “man whose pint you’d really rather not spill.” Much has been made of Keith Richards’ influence on the development of the character of Captain Jack Sparrow, but if you want to see the real Ur-Sparrow, look no further — Ant’s drugs-are-just-about-to-wear-off swagger is clearly the blueprint Johnny Depp worked from.

And the music has held up well, too. This being the Kings Of The Wild Frontier Tour, the show opened with a full reading of Adam And The Ants’ second album, the record that made their name. It’s easy to forget, thirty-nine years on from its release, that KotWF was so much more than just a pop record. Ant captured the same energy in the title track that Iron Maiden put into Running Free, the single they released earlier the same year and to which Ant clearly owes at least a little bit of a debt of gratitude, and combined it with the camp of glam rock and the high-art pretentions of the New Romantics, creating a surprisingly innovative, intense and enduring sound. The music remains as immediate, and, let’s be honest, as bloody good fun, as ever it was.

Album-track boxes duly ticked, Ant and his band trawled through some of his later work, Apollo 9 a particularly uproarious standout, before trotting through the inevitable, and highly enjoyable hits. Prince Charming managed to sound considerably less of a dirge than it does on vinyl, while Stand And Deliver is as exuberant as you should remember it. Encore Goody Two Shoes wears its nod to Elvis Presley lightly, Ant tripping his way through the song with all the camp silliness it deserves.

In the end, though, none of this would have mattered — none of the songs that the less-than-full audience sang along to loudly, danced to badly, cheered enthusiastically — without the band’s signature brace of drummers. Named by Ant only as Andy and Jola, they pounded, in unison and in harmony, the Burundi Beats that defined Adam And The Ants’ sound, Jola chasing the drums around her kit, beating them with an intensity and detail that you’ll rarely find outside a taiko performance. Kings Of The Wild Frontier, the central song of the evening, set the tone for the show with quite remarkable drumwork; Ant Music, with its tricksy opening, saw Ant’s two guitarists lending a hand.

I agreed with Deb, Crave!’s regular guest reviewer, in the car on the way to the show that if the show turned out to be any good, then we’d stay to the end; if not, we’d give each other the nod and leave early. “And then we’re just not going to any more old-man concerts,” she insisted. Fair enough, I had to agree; we were very, very glad that we stayed until the end of last night’s show.

Regular visitors to the Crave! website might notice, by the way, that we don’t have the usual high-quality photography that we like to feature with concert reviews. We fully intended to photograph the show, but just a couple of hours before the concert was due to start, Adam Ant’s tour manager sent out a photo release, which, in addition to the usual, and entirely reasonable, requirement that photos only be published in the outlets they were intended for, photographers were obliged to submit all photos for review before publication, and also allow Adam Ant to select one image per photographer for his own use without any compensation to the photographer. Crave! does not support photo releases of this nature, and will not sign them; that’s why we only have iPhone photos from last night’s show.

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