With his dense, experimental new full-length, Adam Ant Is the Blueblack Hussar in Marrying the Gunner's Daughter, and his current North American tour, the man born Stuart Goddard is making a comeback — the record is Ant’s first in 18 years. The Spin thinks that is plenty of time for the musical climate to have changed in Ant’s favor again. What once seemed silly and superficial may now sound profound to a new generation of pop fans, and The Spin saw plenty of those younger fans waiting for Ant’s grand entrance, along with a contingent of older devotees.
Starting off with a snippet of Tchaikovsky’s "1812 Overture," the Ant show kicked into high gear when the man walked onstage. He sported a sailor’s hat adorned with feathers, and looked like a slightly daffy pirate — The Spin is surely not the first to note that the present-day Ant bears a resemblance to Johnny Depp. On his current tour, his band consists of two drummers, a guitarist and a bassist, and they provided a wall of sound heavy on post-Bo Diddley beats, buzzsaw sonorities and power chords. It wasn’t exactly subtle, but it wasn’t entirely stupid — back in the '80s, Ant made his impact as an updated version of Gary Glitter, and his music still sounds as raucous and cheerfully simplistic as it did in 1983.
With the drums pounding out sprung rhythms and the guitar providing chunky patterns that occasionally gave way to a minimalist solo, Ant went through such classics of Antmusic as “Dog Eat Dog” and “Stand and Deliver.” He held his microphone stand aloft and made a series of effective but oddly abstracted gestures, as if he were lost in a reverie — or maybe trapped in a time warp — amid the clamor of his punk-influenced, bubblegum-glam music.
Ant looked out at the audience, but The Spin found it difficult to imagine what he was actually seeing, since he didn’t seem to connect with the audience in any obvious way. He was in good voice, though Ant doesn’t seem interested in interpreting lyrics in a conventional manner. He screamed, yelped and savored nonsense syllables. Most of the show was a relentless, half-atonal blur of noise, but Ant showed his softer side with “Wonderful,” one of his most distinctive tunes.
“Wonderful” reminded The Spin that Ant’s music is partly derivative of David Bowie’s — like the other New Romantics who took over England in the early ‘80s, Ant modified the music of Bowie, Marc Bolan and Roxy Music for an audience who wanted a combination of glamor and outrage. Ant paid homage to ‘60s rocker Vince Taylor in a song from his new record, and it was appropriate, since Taylor favored image and flash over musical substance, thus proving that sometimes rock ‘n’ roll really is a matter of dressing up and looking the part.
What made Ant’s show fascinating were the teasing hints that Ant is something more than just a funny hat and a bag of received musical ideas. “Vince Taylor” may be the best and most straightforward song on Blueblack Hussar, but the new record’s “Cool Zombie” — an interesting rewrite of the '60s rock classic “Hey Joe” — addresses Ant’s sojourn in Tennessee in humorous, self-deprecating fashion. Performed live, “Cool Zombie” made its point about the perils of stardom in exemplary fashion.
Ant did the hits, including a fine take on “Vive Le Rock” and a rather perfunctory run-through of “Goody Two Shoes.” His rendition of the 1982 “Desperate but Not Serious” was a highlight of the set — a canny showman, Ant gave the song a false ending before he roared back to finish it in proper style. He dedicated “Cleopatra” to Elizabeth Taylor before ending the set with “Prince Charming,” a 1981 chart-topping English single.
Ant’s encore included “Press Darlings” and a cover of Marc Bolan’s “Bang a Gong (Get It On),” which paid tribute to Ant’s roots in glam rock — you could imagine the young Stuart Goddard grooving to the tune in 1971 like any other fan. The Spin left Cannery impressed by Ant’s pop savvy. If his current band plays his classic tunes in a style somewhere between heavy metal and New Wave, Ant’s tunes hold up as solid, danceable creations that feature plenty of smart hooks and chord changes. But Ant came across as both showman and enigma — even at his most outgoing, he seemed to be looking inward at a private pool of emotion that may have nothing to do with the outward trappings of stardom.