Adam Ant live at the Masonic in San Francisco
Success is the sweetest revenge.
Adam Ant’s resurgence as a formidable touring artist has added a new, unlikely chapter to a story that began when Sex Pistols mastermind Malcolm McLaren helped craft the style and sound of Adam & the Ants only to steal away Adam’s band moments later. The theft fueled Adam’s drive to become a star and a rebuilt Ants helped launch Adam to the forefront of post-punk in the late 70s and eventual fame as a New Wave pop star in the early 80s.
After playing the entire Kings of the Wild Frontier album at the Fillmore earlier this year, the quick return to San Francisco has done little to dampen the excitement of the audience. Touching down at the elegant Masonic for this show, the full balcony and shoulder to shoulder floor is enthusiastic for more from Ant. Set opener “Beat My Guest” picks up right where the last tour left off. Bolstered by a second guitarist on this run, the band flexes a fuller, more aggressive tone throughout the night as two drummers deliver the trademark Burundi beats.
Billed as the Anthems tour, the hefty 25 song setlist explores the multiple phases of Ant’s career without allowing the audience a moment to catch their breath. Looking fit and lean, Ant moves effortlessly between his more jagged post-punk years and his chart-topping pop period. Both the title song and “Apollo 9” from 1985’s Vive Le Rock appear early in the set as the band layers his once polished pop singles in fuzz and sweat. It’s a welcome re-imagining of his later material and where it may have gone had record labels not been so concerned with keeping their pop star on the cover of magazines.
Reaching all the way back to his first single, the band show their versatility on the jazzy “Young Parisians” before turning their attention to later material like “Gotta Be A Sin” and “A Room At the Top” where overdriven guitars blow away the slick production of the album versions. Deeper tracks like the glam rock sludge of “Red Scab” and blues-punk of “B-Side Baby” sound at home next to the Ant classics such as “Ant Music” and “Prince Charming”. Casual fans of Ant’s hits are probably caught off guard by the raw arrangements but Ant’s magnetic swagger pulls them in closer one song at a time.
Having traded the dark fetishism of 1979’s “Whip In My Valise” for the pop-camp of “Puss ’n Boots” (from 1983’s Strip), Ant’s pop success might be remembered as selling out but isn’t that the very reason McLaren assembled the Sex Pistols? In keeping with the punk ethos, Ant continues to shy away from the easy money of an 80s package tour to put on two hour shows that dig deep into his musical history. It’s hard work but Ant sounds determined to prove he is far more than a momentary pop star on MTV. As an exhausted Ant stumbles off the stage in San Francisco, the rapturous applause marks another victory for an underdog punk rocker who proves that the substance of his music is an artistic equal to his iconic style.