Feb. 9, 2017
As illustrated by the enduring success of touring ’80s acts such as The Cure, Culture Club and the like, and in the wake of losing icons like David Bowie and Prince, it seems we’ve come to a point in time when appreciation for the artistry of the decade has never been more fervent. Rightly so. New wave and New Romantic music may have seemed a little hokey at the time, but the genres have aged well. And last night at the Fonda Theatre, one of the “kings” of this music, Adam Ant, proved that so has he.
It’s no small thing, either. Ant’s personal and professional life has been a well-documented struggle. He fought bipolar disorder and manic depression throughout his life, elevated by the demands, attention and financial hassles dealt by record companies, fans and touring, which ultimately led to creative burnout. He went from being the biggest pop star in Britain (and nearly as huge in the United States) to virtual obscurity in the span of a few years. But even during his self-imposed exile, his flamboyant persona and rapturous music were never forgotten.
His breakthrough second album, 1980's Kings of the Wild Frontier, is a fabled record at this point, and hearing it live in its entirety was something that fans of the era did not want to miss. This tour, touting a track-by-track performance of the classic, has garnered lots of buzz, and the L.A. show sold out in minutes, with fans clamoring for tickets right up until this week, some paying hundreds of dollars for the privilege to see it. Even those who got gouged got their money’s worth.
Performing the original U.K. version of Kings in order, Ant opted for more faithful renditions than he has in many years (something us seasoned fans of the original recordings always appreciate). The record has two signature hits right off the bat, “Dog Eat Dog” and “Antmusic,” and they set the tone for the show: post-punk stomps with fantastical verses anchored by catchy-as-hell choruses.
Ant was inspired by the Sex Pistols initially, but his brand of rebellion was always more artful, fueled by theatricality and a gift for conjuring another time and place. He’s a mad poet, really, and Kings' collective cuts conjured a story that was easy to escape into. “Feed Me to the Lions” (played for the time ever on this tour), “The Magnificent Five” and “Jolly Roger” were just a few of the highlights that underscored the fairy-tale feel of this masterwork.
Ant has always played up the romanticism of his music and his personal allure, too, and last night was no different. After Kings, he gave us a few of his most seductive hits: “Desperate but Not Serious,” “Prince Charming,” “Goody Two Shoes,” plus T-Rex cover “Bang a Gong (Get It On).” He ended with “Physical,” the track that was added to the U.S. release of Kings, and it was the perfect choice in many ways. At 62 years old, Ant's vocals, guitar playing and, yes, sex appeal were as physically affecting and potent as ever.
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His most recent performances in L.A. prior to last night were by all accounts mostly amusing spectacles, somewhat all over the place, but still entertaining enough thanks to the groove and glam of the material. In light of a recent death in his camp (his musical director and guitarist Tom Edwards died just weeks ago), it was anyone’s guess as to how things might go last night. But despite the loss, or maybe because of it, the pirate-garbed singer was both intensely immersed in the melodies and lyrics he wrote in his youth and at ease with who he is today — an older and wiser dandy highwayman who's had his share of tribulations but triumphed over them, and is maybe even became a better performer because of them.
Everyone at the Fonda felt it, too. Ant and his super-tight, stunningly rhythmic band (with two drummers, white-wigged Jola and Andy Woodard, plus William Crewdson on guitar and Joe Holweger on bass) gave what may have been one of the best performances of his career last night, a redemptive moment and classic comeback show that cements his legacy in the best possible way. It left everyone wanting more and even — this is rare — wanting to see what he and his new crew might do with fresh material.