Adam Ant (photo: Jon Bauer)
Words by SarahJayn Kemp
My Lyft driver wound through the rainy streets towards The Fillmore while making small talk. I expressed that I was worried about not being there when the doors opened for the show. “It’s a Tuesday night,” said my Lyft driver. “How packed do you think that place is gonna get?”
The answer is packed. Adam Ant fans crowded shoulder-to-shoulder in anticipation of the show. Several people were in war paint makeup, and I even saw a few pirate-themed shirts. People were absolutely teeming with anticipation for the show.
Openers The Glam Skanks capitalized on that excitement with their hurricane of glitter, sateen, and hot pants. Their feel-good stadium rock sound matched the purposeful frivolity of their wardrobe and reminded me of a less gut-checking KISS. However, in The Skanks, the crudeness of Simmons’ “The Demon” persona had been swapped for a more sophisticated and estrogen-soaked glossy finish. Their strong, solid vocals and rip-through-the-crowd instrumentals allude to rough-and-tumble girl-group influences such as The Donnas or Bratmobile. It wasn’t the most sophisticated music that I’ve ever heard, but it sure was fun. Half of the members of The Glam Skanks are native San Franciscans, and their show had that joyous, homecoming feel to it.
Adam Ant came onto the stage with all the drama and fanfare one would expect. He was missing the heavy war paint makeup of his youth, but his outfit included the iconic three-corner hat and military jacket from his highwayman days. It’s a remarkable visual, but unlike other artist who have such as striking look Adam’s music isn’t solely dependent on visual aesthetics. He’s playing the entirety of his album Kings of the Wild Frontier to commemorate its 35th anniversary on this tour. I was both excited and worried about this prospect, because I have great respect for that album. It was from an era of music before instant downloads — it’s a complete being and organism. All the parts work together. To see it shuffled through on stage like a list being ticked off would have sucked the air out from it.
Thankfully, that’s not what happened. Opening with a fierce version of "Dog Eat Dog," the band pummeled the crowd with that once-controversial Burundi beat. Adam’s voice was as strong as ever, and his stage presence was as magical as it was three decades ago. The crowd leaned heavily on the 40-to-50 side, but they jumped and pumped fists like teenagers all through the set.
I know it would be more rock and roll of me to note a more obscure song like "Feed Me to the Lions," which is being performed for the first time live during this tour. Don’t get me wrong, it was great hearing it live. However, if I’m honest, the highlight of the set for me was "Antmusic." There’s a reason why Adam Ant has been such a successful professional oddity and that reason is that he produces great tunes that make you feel alive to hear. The chanting, pumping fervor of this song beguiles with its simplicity. Like Culture Club’s Karma Chameleon, Ant Music was spawned out of that early 1980s backlash to the heavy 1970s radio play of dirt rock and hair bands. With the energy and repetition of disco and the cultural and musical complexity of rock and roll, "Antmusic" is a memorable song that is uniquely Adam Ant. It just feels like such an honest song.
Perhaps that’s the thing I most appreciate about Adam Ant as an artist. He’s honest. On another person, the wardrobe and hair might come off as a costume, a part that is being played. However, Adam wears it so well that it seems genuine. The same can be said for his music. From another artist, songs like "Antmusic" and "Stand and Deliver" might sound hokey or contrived, but from Adam they sound real and fresh. The world needs more honesty and more strange. On both points, Adam Ant continues to deliver.