Tag Archives: punk

The Return of Ant Music

adamant2017_drum_144dpiMention Adam Ant (born Stuart Goddard) or Adam and the Ants to someone today and they will likely have polarized reactions – whether friend or foe (couldn’t resist that). While Adam Ant’s music and flamboyant stage manner was decidedly not for everyone, most look back at his whimsical themes with great affection, recalling his powerful tribal music and riveting live stagecraft. More dedicated fans embraced Adam’s many personas, his passionate, sometimes fetishistic homages to pirates, highwaymen, Cowboys, American Indians, and other colorful macho characters. His popular work drove nearly a dozen singles to the top of the charts, sustaining a musical career that began in 1977 and peaked in 1985. We caught him February 3, 2017 in Seattle for what was an exciting return to form, as Adam and band tore through a set list that featured the entire Ants breakthrough record Kings of the Wild Frontier.

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Adam Ant began his music career during the dawn of punk rock, casting about for a record deal until the formation of Adam and the Ants and debut release Dirk Wears White Sox (1979). After that freshman outing, Adam signed on with producer Malcolm McLaren, who promptly convinced the band to defect and form Bow Wow Wow with singer Annabella Lwin. McLaren had acquired a fascinating tape from Africa of native Burundi drummers; a powerful exuberant tribal sound that fuelled both Bow Wow Wow and Adam’s quickly reconstituted Ants. Marco Pirroni, an ex-member of Siouxsie and the Banshees joined the Ants, becoming Adam’s collaborator and guitarist for the remainder of his 80s heyday.

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The new band released a second album, Kings of the Wild Frontier in 1980 which went to number one in the UK, establishing the basis of the ever-evolving sound that Adam popularized for the next five years. While retaining the raw verve of its punk rock adamant2017_kotwf_72dpipredecessor, Kings ventured into wild new territory with stunning results. Tribal sounds driven by a pair of drummers mixed with Ennio Morricone inspired tremolo guitars, chants and yodels abound. The lyric “I feel beneath the white there is a red skin suffering from centuries of taming” typify Adam’s themes, which most frequently alternate between tales of warrior heroes and ruminations on fame and the press. The album launched many of Adam’s enduring themes and his iconic look; leather clad punk below the waist, colonial pirate above.

adamant2017_ant1_144dpiEver the change artist, Adam morphed the Kings sound and fashion over the next several albums, as he released and toured for one more Ants record Prince Charming (1981) then solo albums Friend or Foe (1982), Strip (1983) and Viva Le Rock (1985). After this string of successes, he took a lower profile musically, appearing in public less frequently. There would be two more albums in the 90s, but recording gave way to a career in film and television. With Adam’s autobiography in 2006, the public learned of his lifelong struggles with bipolar disorder, something that had been clear from based on bits of press over the years. Adam revitalized his music career earlier this decade, performing one-offs and short tours since this rebirth, including one new album. We saw the first part of this comeback a few of years ago in San Francisco – on that particular night, a decidedly mixed affair that was unfortunately not on par with his original concerts. But this time, last week in Seattle, Adam looked his old self and was absolutely on top of his game in every way.

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The set list focused on Kings, which was performed in sequence, To this Adam added a few B-sides, including fan favorites “Beat My Guest” and “Christian Dior,” a couple from his first album, the title track of Prince Charming along with “Stand and Deliver,” and several others including the hit “Goody Two Shoes,” and popular numbers “Desperate But Not Serious,” and “Vive Le Rock.” The final song, as has been true on several tours, was “Physical” a single that appeared on the U.S. version of Kings. While the two level staging and lighting was simple, the four-piece band (two drummers, bass, and guitar) was fantastic. The tragic passing of Tom Edwards, Adam’s bandleader and guitarist for this tour forced the postponement of a few shows just before our date in Seattle. Will adamant2017_will2_144dpiCrewsdon, who played in Adam’s band in in the past rejoined and was well rehearsed by this third night out. As good as they were, the focus was appropriately on Adam, who was back to his sexed-up dance moves, playful phrasing, and clear soaring vocals, which showed no signs of strain during the performance. Fans deliriously sang along to many of the songs, particularly when Adam beckoned them on for “Prince Charming.” My favorite, “Killer in the Home” was worth the admission, the wait and the dedication to this artist, once again at home on stage. Catch him if you can, noble human beings.

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The Specials and Terry Hall

specials_band2_144dpiTerry Hall’s artistry is one of Britain’s fairly well-kept secrets. Sure, the average music fan outside of the U.K. who knows a bit about punk and new wave music from the late 70’s through the 80’s will know of ska sensation The Specials, and might have known about Fun Boy Three – at least their song “Our Lips Are Sealed” (a much bigger hit for co-writer Jane Wiedlin’s The Go-Go’s.) But fewer yet will know about the bands Colourfield or Vegas (with Euryhmics founder David A. Stewart), or in fact any of Hall’s rich and varied solo work. Terry Hall lent his compositions, his smooth expressive voice, and his at times political, satirical, or dryly-humorous lyrics to many bands and projects over the years, delivering them in his distant yet passionate style, improving everything he touched.

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Hall first came to be known with ska revival band The Specials in the late 1970s. Keyboardist and political activist Jerry Dammers formed the Specials. The lineup shifted for a couple of years, gelling into the most known lineup of Hall, Dammers, vocalist Neville Staple, guitarists Roddy Byers and Lynval Golding, bassist Horace Panter and rocksteady beat drummer John Bradbury. Dammers started the 2 Tone Records label in 1979, released the band’s first single “Gangsters” and then their self-titled debut album. The Specials music combines the primarily joyful sound of ska music with often politically charged and socially conscious lyrical commentary, peppered with the energy and attitude of punk.

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After their second album More Specials, and the non-album single “Ghost Town,” Hall, Golding, and Staple left the group to form Fun Boy Three, who were active from 1981 to 1983. The rest of the musicians in The Specials soldiered on in various forms and bands including Special AKA, Special Beat (with members of the Beat), Sunday Best, and others. Dammers disbanded The Specials in 1984. There have been reunion shows, four album releases and various lineups of the band since that demise, but all without Dammers and most missing one or two other key members including Hall. Interest peaked beginning on the band’s 30th anniversary in 2009, which led to several tours, including one of North America in 2013 and another this year, which stopped in San Francisco at the Warfield Theater September 23, 2016.

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The show was fantastic. Today Hall, Golding and Panter represent the original band, with rock-steady Libertines drummer Gary Powell just this year replacing ace John Bradbury, after his unfortunate passing in 2015. Byers left in 2014, and Staple hasn’t joined due to health issues since 2013. Nevertheless, with Hall, Golding, and Panter up front and the full compliment of musicians alongside them, the band sounds amazing and the performance is spirited. Hall himself doesn’t move a lot, and expresses himself infrequently as is his norm. Quips like (paraphrased) “hey what’s this picture of Santa doing on my can of Coca-Cola? Pepsi is the anti-Christ!” belie his continuing acerbic wit, while his real focus is on faithful delivery of the vocals, a treat for any long time fan of Hall’s restrained vibrato.

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The band organized the set list creatively, starting at a slow pace with the hit single from their EP Ghost Town, building the intensity gradually over the next hour, until unleashing the one-two punch of “Nite Klub,” which drew of bit of “slam dancing” from the standing-room only crowd up front. Highlights included one of my favorite Hall compositions “Friday Night Saturday Morning,” which evoked the crowd to croon its instant-ear-worm chorus “I go out on Friday night and I come home on Saturday morning.” Later in the set, “Doesn’t Make It Alright,” and the second a-side single from the EP, “Why?” had us thinking about the sad state of race relations in America:

I’m proud of my black skin and you are proud of your white, so
Why do you try to hurt me?
Do you really want to kill me?

Fittingly, at this point Golding admonished us all not to vote for Trump! The band continued to build the momentum, performing most of their first two albums and the Ghost Town EP to the adoring crowd. By the end, after cranking thru up-tempo songs like “Concrete Jungle,” “Little Bitch,” and “Too Much Too Young” they eased off the gas with covers “Enjoy Yourself,” and “You’re Wondering Now.”

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Dammers once said that when a new innovative music comes to the fore, it can be embedded with political lyrics – he intended that The Specials be able to address the issues of racism, something every fan of the band knows well from their lyrics and between-song banter. Hall continued in this vein with Fun Boy Three, Colourfield, and his later solo work. It’s a successful brew – one that cemented the group’s reputation and importance for their fans. It’s very hard to believe that this groundbreaking band will see the 40th anniversary of their founding next year. These reunion shows are, still, highly recommended. Now, I can still wait and hope for, someday, a solo Terry Hall concert as well!

Getting Into The Cure

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Robert Smith, The Cure

I saw The Cure  way back on October 10, 1985 in Santa Barbara, California supporting their smash album The Head On The Door, from that same year. While it was a powerful and emotional show in parts, I was ultimately disappointed with the stoic stage presence of the band. In particular, founder Robert Smith seemed to be napping through long stretches of the set list, only coming alive it seemed for the couple of hits at the end of the concert. In part my California roots drove my perceptions at the time; the gloomy mysteriousness of goth music, while connecting well in gritty San Francisco, was in part lost on the audience in sunny southern California. The band at the time was also right on the cusp of greater stardom, with just a few popular hits like “Let’s Go to Bed” and “In Between Days” overshadowed by darker dirges such as “A Forest.” A standout memory for me was their performance of “A Night Like This,” which bridged the two forms, it’s prolonged menacing prologue leading to a heartfelt reading of the chorus:

I’m coming to find you if it takes me all night
Can’t stand here like this anymore
For always and ever is always for you
I want it to be perfect
Like before
I want to change it all

Smith’s songs while sometimes quirky and playful are most often laden with sadness, relating stories of lost love, unbearable pain, or outright anger and hatred. While that might sound like torture to some, these songs have an ability to access deep-seated emotions in listeners, unlocking these feelings, even allowing for their release. The greatest melancholy music can do this. It can support a bit of wallowing, but a lot of healing as well. The Cure has always walked this line skillfully. That fact was gloriously on full display last Thursday May 26th at the Shoreline Amphitheater in Mountain View, just south of San Francisco where so many of us first fell in love with the band. I took my daughter Elaina for her first Cure show, and my second, 30 years on. It was everything my first time wasn’t.

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On this night, The Cure took the stage beginning with the bluesy dirge “Open” from Wish (1992). It was clear from the first minutes that Smith was in top form, fronting one of the tightest lineups of his oft-changing collective. Robert Smith has been the only consistent member of The Cure since it’s inception in 1976 and as principal composer and vocalist, its driving force. In addition to some of his punk/goth contemporaries, Smith pioneered a style of guitar playing that drives so many Cure songs, a type of short repeating chord cycle, which relentlessly drives the music forward, allowing the listener to get lost in the sound. Consider the aforementioned “A Forest,” one of the purest examples of the form.

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Smith’s band is now composed of Simon Gallup (basses since 1979), Roger O’Donnell (keyboards on and off since 1987), Jason Cooper (drums since 1994), and relatively new guitarist Reeves Gabrels (since 2012). The rhythm section of Gallup and Cooper were a major part of what made the concert so exceptional. Cooper is able to execute the start-stop hiccups of so many Cure backbeats with precision and endurance. Gallup brings movement to the stage, pinning down deceptively complex bass leads that often drive the melodic force of these songs, ambling about, punk posturing, on fire.

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After the second track “alt.end” from The Cure (2004) the band made this fan a happy man, as they dove into five consecutive tracks from Head On The Door, followed by “The Walk” from the 1983 EP of the same name (and from b-sides collection Japanese Whispers), one of the best tracks of the set. Incidentally this rare track, along with the unexpected rendition of “Kyoto” before it, were two of those songs that showed off drummer Cooper’s ability to execute complex polyrhythmic leads, while “Screw” showed off bassist Gallup’s chunk funky lines.

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The Cure on this tour has been playing crowd-pleasing set lists that change each night, with a core of consistent selections from their most popular mid period work. The band played several tracks off Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me (1987), Disintegration (1989), which included career highlights “Lullaby,” “Fascination Street” and “Pictures of You,” about which my daughter says “If you wanted to play one song to someone who did not know The Cure’s music, this would be it – so sad but beautiful.” Truer words. The other featured album was Wish (1992) from which the band pulled off a most unexpected pleasure, set closer “End.” This raw, psychedelic funeral march was absolutely overwhelming live, a perfect ending that summed up everything I came to love about The Cure. After verses like “I think I’ve reached that point where every wish has come true, and tired disguised oblivion is everything I do,” follows its poignant, desperately sad refrain:

Please stop loving me
Please stop loving me
I am none of these things

Cure_Smith2_140dpiI watched the crowd, many of whom had clearly never heard this coda to Wish, slowly come around as the band cranked up its intensity, realizing they were witness to an immensely powerful moment, joining in the refrain, despite its despairing message. Smith’s uncanny way of putting words to music, making the sum of the two something more than its parts, awakening dread, a cry for help, and ultimately survival, even transcendence is unparalleled. And, fortunately for us, he is a survivor and, as seen last week in concert, he continues to thrive, in apparently good health and surprisingly strong voice. Long may this artist persevere. In the meantime, catch this tour if you can. You might just find a bit of healing yourself, a salve for the ills of this world, a new reason to love this enduring band.

oh, and my daughter Elaina on that night….

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