Adam Ant – Nottingham Rock City, Thursday December 8th
For someone who dominated pop so totally in the early Eighties – in 1981 alone, he had seven singles and three albums in the charts – Adam Ant’s legacy has been unfairly overlooked. A drawn-out battle with mental illness didn’t help; between 1996 and 2010, the former star played just one live show, and it seemed unlikely that we would ever hear from him again.
Just over a year ago, Adam started to make a few tentative returns to the spotlight. The gigs were low-key at first, but they were enough for the word to spread: against all the odds, the man had found his form again.
Expectations were therefore running high for last night’s show, which attracted a mixture of fans from the cult punk band days, nostalgic forty-somethings, and a fair number of curious younger observers. A few had gone the whole hog, plastering white stripes across their faces in tribute to Adam’s signature look.
Their efforts were more than matched by the 57-year old legend himself, who was decked out in a huge, feathered pirate hat and a gold brocade jacket, with a black cross daubed on one temple. The “dandy highwayman” of 1981 had returned to life; bespectacled and a little thicker round the waist, but still instantly recognisable. A trim little moustache completed the look. It was impossible not to be reminded of Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow, until you remembered that Adam was the originator, not the imitator.
In place of The Ants, backing was provided by The Good, The Mad & The Lovely Posse (“they’re good, I’m mad”), which featured two drummers (how could it not?) and the burlesque performer Georgina Baillie, no stranger to unwelcome press attention herself. (You might remember her as the girl in the centre of the Brand/Ross/Sachs hoo-hah.)
Instead of opening with one of the big hits, the marathon 27-song set began with an obscure track from the early days of The Ants: Plastic Surgery, from the soundtrack of Derek Jarman’s 1978 punk movie Jubilee. It set the tone for much of what followed, as Adam reconnected his pop career with his formative punk roots. Almost all the hits were there – Stand And Deliver, Goody Two Shoes, Antmusic – but so were the early singles, album tracks and B-sides. The B-sides in particular were a real treat: Beat My Guest, Kick, Fall In, a blisteringly brilliant Red Scab, and a deliciously kinky Whip In My Valise, surely a blueprint for much of Suede’s early material.
Compellingly energised throughout – hollering and strutting and baring his teeth, and ripping his T-shirt half-open during Kings Of The Wild Frontier – the singer only stumbled once. Introducing his 1995 single Wonderful as “the only love song I ever wrote”, Adam struggled his way through the song, which sounded awkwardly at odds with the rest of the set. He recovered with a brand new song, written in tribute to the late rockabilly singer Vince Taylor: a fallen star, who never recovered from a descent into drug abuse and madness.
Based on the evidence of this magnificent show – performed with dashing, if damaged, panache and cheered to the rafters by a rapturous crowd – Adam Ant looks to have escaped that kind of sorry fate. It was truly heart-warming to see him back where he belonged: on stage, tarted up to the nines, standing and delivering, and bringing smiles to the faces of his reunited “insect nation”.
Set list: Plastic Surgery, Dog Eat Dog, Beat My Guest, Kick, Car Trouble, Zerox, Ants Invasion, Deutscher Girls, Stand And Deliver, Puss ‘N Boots, Kings Of The Wild Frontier, Wonderful, Vince Taylor, Whip In My Valise, Desperate But Not Serious, Antmusic, Cleopatra, Never Trust A Man (With Egg On His Face), Goody Two Shoes, Vive Le Rock, Christian D’Or, Lady, Fall In, Red Scab, Prince Charming, Get It On, Physical (You’re So).