ADAM ANT: Friend or Foe
Symphony Hall, Birmingham, Tuesday 26th November, 2019
Years ago, back when the Odeon on Birmingham’s New Street was a music venue, I saw Adam and the Ants play, with a huge pirate ship filling the stage. Adam Ant was up and down that rigging like nobody’s business. It is a fond memory of one of the first gigs I ever attended. Now, many years later, he is back, sans Ants, with a concert version of his solo album from 1982, Friend or Foe – the one with hits like Goody Two Shoes and Desperate But Not Serious, both of which prove to be highlights of tonight’s set. The exuberant brass section that colours the album is here replaced by guitars (along with the signature pair of drummers) giving the set a heavier, raunchier overall sound.
The theme from old TV series The Saint plays the band onstage, setting the tone nicely (and dating most of the audience!) and the set opens with the album’s title track. Ant looks fabulous, of course, belying his age and he’s in excellent voice. This is quickly followed by Something Girls, which includes some of the best whistling since One Man and His Dog. Place in the Country is faster, reinvigorated; we are rattling through the album at quite a lick. Hello, I Love You (a cover of The Doors) is just about perfect, followed by the autobiographical Goody Two Shoes, which is joyous – anything that follows this banger is bound to sound weak by comparison, so Crackpot History and the Right to Lie seems like the wrong kind of gear change.
The album concludes with the instrumental, Man Called Marco which affords Ant the chance to step and trip around with those snake hips of his – he is wearing the skinniest fit trousers and tight boots that give his legs a spindly, insect-like aspect. Perhaps he is turning into an ant after all.
“Here are some more songs you might enjoy,” he says, ushering us into Greatest Hits territory, kicking off with Dog Eat Dog – which is like Ennio Morricone doing metal. Antmusic provides the best moments of the night; it’s just fantastic, and I enjoy the opportunity to revisit older tracks from his early punk days, such as Zerox and Car Trouble. Prince Charming is an anthem and a call to arms, with its war cry introduction and its mantra, “Ridicule is nothing to be scared of” – words to live by, indeed! Puss In Boots is great fun, and Kings of the Wild Frontier is stunning, with its darker edge, but it is Stand And Deliver, closing the set, that proves the most exhilarating. “The way you look,” Ant sings, “you’ll qualify for next year’s old-age pension.” Well, the lyrics might be catching up with him, but you’d never guess to see and hear him play. The outfits are less flamboyant but he still cuts a dashing figure. The man who brought theatricality and fun to post-punk music is still going strong.
The encore is comprised of three ancient tracks, Press Darlings, Red Scabs, and You’re So Physical and while it’s a rare opportunity to hear them with this richer, fuller sound, I kind of hanker for something poppier, like Apollo 9 for example, so we can have a good old singalong before we go.
A wonderful evening that reminded me why I loved him so much in the first place. Antastic!