It was bold: a paunchy, 50-something Adam Ant grinding out crunchy guitar rock versions of much of his early work in his first Orange County performance in almost 30 years. It was surprisingly hard. It was intense. And most importantly, it was as close to his punk roots as the often breathless Ant could muster.
Long gone was guitarist and collaborator Marco Pirroni, and with him, any last vestige of the punk rock spaghetti Western motifs that set Adam and the Ants musically apart from just about everybody except Bow Wow Wow in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Even with duel drummers very thunderously back as part of the five-piece backing band, it was not the Ants but it was sweaty and sincere. Ant, on the final night of a U.S. tour that hopes to be the beginning of his comeback, would not sleep walk through a greatest hits show. He was clearly driving this the other way.
If you had gone to the trouble of buying a ticket and standing on the City National Grove of Anaheim’s chairless, sold-out floor Oct. 20 for a couple of hours, you were almost certainly a serious fan from the Reagan/Thatcher era and this was for you.
Much of the 29-song set burned feverishly off the Ants' first three albums: Dirk Wears White Sox, Kings of the Wild Frontier and Prince Charming. And as a special gift to many of the graying, longtime fans, several B-sides from that era – most famously "Beat My Guest" and "Christian D’or" – also made the set.
On one hand, it has been a very long time since he’s had anything to promote, so the remastered Ants albums from a decade ago were enough reason to go back to this material. And if the '80s are coming back in the sounds of a lot of younger acts, then a second look at Ant music is overdue. On the other, Ant seems to have finally gotten the bipolar condition that dogged him much of the last 20 years under control and is looking forward again. A new album is due late this year and one of the tracks, “Vince Taylor,” found its way into the middle of the set as well.
Ant included solo material as well, touching on every album including the forgettable Manners & Physique from 1990, but mostly his focus remained on presenting a picture of himself as an artist who, despite everything, hadn’t gone soft.
Yet it was another show diminished by the Grove’s tricky acoustics. Maybe it was the heavy low end Ant’s band was dealing that seemed to bury too much of the sound in soupy distortion, regardless, it wasn’t the band’s fault.
Nobody yet knows if the upcoming album, comically titled Adam Ant is the Blueblack Hussar in Marrying the Gunner's Daughter, will be the career resurrection it’s intended to be, but if this hard, loud and sweaty performance was any indication, he will not be going away quietly.