When Adam Ant penned the line ‘ridicule is nothing to be scared of’, the chances of many people pouring such scorn on his endeavours were slim. In the space of two short years he had gone from being a sleazy, post-punk rocker to the status of the biggest pop star in the UK by a mile. Thirty years later and the outcome of Ant stepping onto a stage, a fifty-seven year old man in full pirate get-up, is not so clear cut. A dwindling solo and acting career behind him, as well as a very public battle with mental illness, means that his return to Dublin after many, many years has an unavoidable element of curiosity (at best) about it.
Not that the very respectable crowd gathered at Vicar Street have anything so cycnical on their mind. If any have come expecting (or even hoping for) a car crash of a show, they find themselves shouted down by those for whom the very sight of twin drum kits on stage sets the pulses racing. As it goes, the reality is neither triumph nor tragedy, but a good deal closer to the former. Ant does indeed look his age at the start, attempting to pull off the moves of old and struggling slightly, but he is still an enigmatic performer. Communication is kept to a minimum and there is no hint of desperate gratitude about his performance and quite right too, Ant is here on his own terms and with a back catalogue that demands respect. Of those songs, it’s the darker, more experimental material that dominates – proving once again just how unlikely his transformation to mainstream star was.
It’s not perfect by any means. At two hours, it’s a long set that fails to maintain the momentum all the way through and Ant’s new band handle the rock stuff well but less so the lighter material. Despite a rapturous welcome, ‘Stand And Deliver’ is a touch heavy handed and the once glorious ‘Goody Two Shoes’ is trampled into a dirge. It’s on the Kings Of The Wild Frontier era material, half way between the underground and pop domination, that the line-up really shine – ‘Ant Music’, ‘Dog Eat Dog’ and a huge version of the title track that really does roll back the years. The flipside is the increasingly annoying antics of the two backing singers (including her from the Russell Brand BBC farrago), who go from encouragingly edgy to depressingly tacky via a set of costume changes and end up preening and pouting through the encore like something from the Benny Hill show.
Ultimately, though, Ant emerges from the evening with his dignity, legacy and reputation largely intact. By the end he is almost back to his old self, a crunching ‘Prince Charming’ leading into a slightly odd T-Rex tribute and biting versions of ‘Red Scab’ and ‘Physical (You’re So’). Quite what we can expect from next year’s promised new album is yet to be seen (the one new track isn’t all that to be honest) but with the singer so obviously plugging into his younger, more experimental self, it could indeed be good, mad or even quite lovely. Whatever the outcome, though, you can be sure that Adam Ant has nothing to fear anymore.
Photos by Roger Woolman.