37 years later, Ant is still King of the Wild Frontier
So the other night I went to the theatre to see Adam Ant perform the entirety of his “Kings of the Wild Frontier” album (recorded with his former band the Ants, nee, Antz), plus some greatest hitz and fan favez, and it was fantastic.
Sure, I coulda written that paragraph in 1980 or 1981, when “Nu Wave” was still considered a viable catchphrase; when all the kidz chopped their hair to ribbonz and all the new band namez had a sassy “u” or snazzy “z.” At the age of 12 or 13, I was a huge fan of the Antz. Because I was a few years too young to catch the glitter of the initial glam-rock trend, Adam served as my personal Ziggy for a year or so. With the “alien” angle taken, on the coattails of punk, English art student Stuart Goddard trotted out an alter-ego / act that was a bizarre, ultra-visual hybrid of “red injun” cum pirate via jungle drums, Morricone soundtrack, sci-fi / futurist manifesto, and taboo sex. As a junior-high-school misfit, the Antz were the first thing I noticed that presented a viable alternative to the shit on the radio – like Asia, Kansas, Air Supply, Olivia Newton John, and heavy metal, which I just couldn’t relate to at all – even at that age, when you’re supposed to like it, being jacked up on hormones, pubescent aggression, and a total inability to understand or communicate with chicks (“the more things change . . .”). But Adam Ant – 38 years later? It couldn’t possibly work; he’s too old – fuck, I’M too old, the character too ludicrous . . . it’s all grease(paint)y kid’s stuff . . . right?
WRONG. Unlikely as it sounds, on this freezing Tuesday night, Adam Ant sold out the Wilbur Theatre and brought the house down. With double drums thundering from a darkened stage, Ant whirled into a sudden sole spotlight like a dervish, issuing one of his trademark “wardance” knee-kicks, and launched into “Dog Eat Dog,” the opening track on “Kings.” It was flawlessly timed drama, well-planned theatre, and the crowd erupted accordingly. For the entire performance, Adam succeeded by displaying a 100% commitment to the material – and the character – rather than just playing it off as nostalgia or irony, tongue-in-cheek and with a wink. “You want a thrill so you come and see me / a cheap line in fantasy” he sang during “Ants Invasion,” one of the show’s numerous highlights. With disbelief suspended, as you would if going to see a film or a play, you could spend a few hours in a punk-informed Neverland, a place of highwayman robbers, sex gang children, Native American ghosts, spaghetti westerns, and high seas adventure. Trim and fit, decked out in leather trousers and “buttons and bows and bleu, blanc, rouge,” Ant sang, danced, yodeled (a trademark vocal stylization), chanted, and played guitar without so much as stopping for a breath, as immersed in “the play” as the riotously vocal, appreciative audience.
None of this would have succeeded if the band wasn’t as dedicated to Adam’s vision as he was. But the five-piece was damn close to choreographed; well-rehearsed and honed to attack with on-a-dime precision. This wasn’t the forum for spontaneous solos or setting off into uncharted waters – commitment, professionalism, and passion to reproduce the much-loved originals was the focus. The only difference I could discern was the increased tempos; many of the songs rocketed with a pulse and urgency that sharpened the blade on the edgier stuff, and added some heat and bite to the poppier material, e.g., Ant’s 1982 solo hit, “Goody Two Shoes.” The notably older crowd shed a few years (and, probably, pounds) by singing along sang and dancing with drunk-uncle abandon – during the title track to “Kings of the Wild Frontier” it felt like the floorboards might splinter. After roughly two hours of “Antmusic,” and a jaunt through T. Rex’s “Get It On,” the band encored with the metallic bump & grind of “Physical (You’re So).” Then, before you could wail one final, defiant “da diddley qua qua,” the houselights were up, the tinsel trashed, the carnival over. Say goodbye to Hollywood.
But still, for a few precious hours in early 2017, it was once again Antland in Boston, and I, among many, was happy to “join our insect nation,” if only for a little while.
Editor’s note: Mr Adams was able to view the final performance by Ant-Guitarist and Musical Director Tom Edwards, who passed away after the Boston show due to suspected heart failure, he was 41. Edwards was also known for his work with Edwyn Collins, Aztec Camera’s Roddy Frame, and Fields of the Nephilim. His loss cancelled shows in the mid Atlantic states, but tour continues now in North America and in May in Europe.