Adam Ant and The English Beat: Live at The Fillmore

Looking Back in Present Tense

“Mr. Ant is having a massage, there is no party.” We are underaged and over-adorned, holding boldfaced flyers that say, “You are invited to a party with Adam Ant” with a French Quarter hotel address, handed out backstage at the UNO Lakefront Arena. Just moments ago, onstage, a stripped-down Mr. Ant undulated inside a giant tank of goldfish, yet here the hotel manager gatekeeps our pouts, whines, and parent-guardian-petitions. It is 1984 and we want the rapturous excess of frills, leather, and cheek to loop forever like a music video.

Fast-forward 40 years to The Fillmore, with assigned seating in a sea of summer casual, the occasional brocade or sequin jacket, and some stalwarts in all-black. The English Beat (known in the U.K. as The Beat) opens—currently an eight-piece outfit led by sole founding member and main vocalist Dave Wakeling—by saluting deceased members Ranking Roger, Saxa, and Everett Morton with “Can’t Get Used to Losing You.” Small contingents sway, skip, and skank to the band’s blend of ska, reggae, Latin, and ‘60s-infused pop in “Tears of a Clown” (introduced with a sentimental Smokey Robinson story), Ranking Full Stop,” and “Mirror in the Bathroom.” Opposite Wakeling, the dynamic Antonee First Class keeps the energy up as he riffs and hops as toaster. “Tenderness”—a hit by Wakeling and Roger’s later band General Public—is met with cheers and closes the set.

Both The English Beat and Adam Ant are British acts, positioned at the forefront of different scenes that intersect in punk and alternative circles. A multiethnic group, The English Beat originally formed in Birmingham in 1978. Saxophonist Saxa (born Lionel Martin) had emigrated from Jamaica, and worked with Jamaican ska legends such as Tommy McCook, Roland Alphonso, Prince Buster, and Desmond Dekker. Caribbean immigrants—particularly from the Windrush generation—brought calypso, ska, and reggae traditions which greatly influenced British music.

Adam Ant opens at The Fillmore with “Vive Le Rock,” supported by his five-piece band of two drummers, two guitarists, and a bass player. The effect is electrifying, and heavy on visuals particularly in lady drummer Jola’s courtly garb, pomped-up hair, and bandit mask. This song introduces Ant’s associative and appropriative re-mixing style, incorporating the hook from “He’s a Rebel” by ‘60’s girl group The Crystals and name-checking homoerotic artist Tom of Finland demurely as an opposing image of himself. Delivering a heady mix of post-punk, tribal percussion, new wave, and glammy power chords, Ant continues with “Antmusic,” an anthem grounded in the “Burundi beat,” with bassist Joe Holweger and guitarist Will Crewdson playing floor toms while standing to dramatic effect.

 Adam Ant, born Stuart Goddard in London, progressed from punk outfit Bazooka Joe to post-punk Adam and the Ants (1977-1982), before emerging as solo artist Adam Ant. Dismayed by low record sales for his complex and excellent album Dirk Wears White Sox in 1979, Ant enlisted the advice of notorious music impresario Malcom McLaren, who discussed his philosophy, a mixtape, and then stole Adam’s band members to form Bow Wow Wow, adding 13-year-old singer Annabella Lwin. For Ant, the highlight from McLaren’s mixtape was “Burundi Black,” credited to Burundi Steïphenson Black. Featuring guitar and piano over a 1967 ethnographic field recording of 25 Bukirasazi drummers in Burundi, the track would provide the foundation for “Antmusic” and beyond, and for Bow Wow Wow’s sound as well. There were no royalties generated from those initial field recordings, but The Drummers of Burundi did begin touring and recording in 1982.

In songwriting and visuals, Ant casts himself in roles of power, transgression, and vulnerability as pirate and king, highwayman, astronaut, pinup (note Ant’s Jane Russell-worthy pinup reclining on hay on the cover of his second solo album Strip), and so on. He has mythologized Indigenous Americans and nations, used iconography such as war paint and feathers, namechecking Blackfoot, Pawnee, Cheyenne, Crow, Goklayeh, Apache, and Arapaho in “The Human Beings.” “Killer in the Home,” an eerie ballad which employs spaced-out strains of Cheyenne and Shawnee power chord pioneer Link Wray’s iconic “Rumble” over military drums, calling out to Geronimo, had The Fillmore audience silently engaged.

In multiple interviews, Ant maintains that he has received support from various Indigenous nations regarding his use of their culture, and in my recent conversation with a local Black Masking Indian member, he stated, “My man gets a pass.” Ant’s musical lexicon also includes yodeling and whistling, hinting at big west stories and cowhands, which is very theatrical when performed live. A former incarnation of his band that had horns had amplified the guitar strains to spaghetti western effect in songs such as “Desperate But Not Serious,” but at The Fillmore’s performance without horns a slight nasty disco beat emerged, and the audience member who screamed for it all night was finally rewarded. Later, “Stand and Deliver” was pared down to a meaty Gary Glitter-esque floor tom beat and Adam Ant’s parting gift “Physical (You’re So)” with dirge-y chainsaw guitars à la Bowie guitarist Mick Ronson returned to that same nastiness as “Red Scab” played earlier in the evening. It was all the excess we needed.


photo by Veronica Cross

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