A thousands fans converged at the corner of Euclid and E. 55th Wednesday night, transforming the lobby of Cleveland’s famed Agora Theatre into a veritable ant farm of rock and roll activity.
Given that the evening’s headliner was Adam Ant, the bustling scene was appropriate.
It’s been a long while since we spotted the original “dandy highwayman” in these parts. The Brit born Stuart Goddard became an MTV sensation in the early ‘80s, bringing radio hits like “Stand and Deliver,” “Goody Two Shoes,” and “Strip” to life in campy videos that popularized his King of the Wild Frontier persona. Bedecked in breeches, boots, waist coats, and tricorn hats straight out of the American Revolution, the lascivious Lothario strutted his way to stardom.
Ant lost his grip on the pop charts in the late ‘80s—like so many of his peers—and mental health issues only exacerbated his creative struggled in an ever-changing musical climate. 1995’s Wonderful was an unexpected pleasure at an unlikely time, but then Ant retreated from the public eye once more, recollecting and reinventing himself in private during the 2000s.
Call it nostalgia, call it championing an underdog…it was a thrill seeing pop’s premiere pirate back in action. Supported by a new band—The Good, The Mad, and The Lovely Posse—Adam offered all the old favorites alongside a generous helping of new tunes from his first disc in over a decade, Adam Ant is the Blue Black Hussar in Marrying the Gunner’s Daughter.
Yeah, both band and album names are a little on the wordy side. But Ant’s always preferred clever quips and subtle insights to conciseness and conformity. We’ll grant him his quirks and eccentricities (and praise his boldness) as long as he keeps writing catchy, provocative songs and manifesting them onstage so colorfully, like an electric peacock.
After greeting the audience with Hussar’s title cut, Ant dusted off classics like “Dog Eat Dog,” “Beat My Guest,” “Kick,” and “Ants Invasion.” The crowd responded warmly to less familiar fare like “Hard Men Tough Blokes” and “Shrink”—but went ballistic over the beat-laden ‘80s gems “Stand and Deliver” and “Kings of the Wild Frontier.” Aching ballad “Wonderful” made for a nice segue into a medley of new music, like “Stay in The Game” and “Cool Zombie”—for which Ant strapped on a black Les Paul and churned away.
Adam’s Posse boasts a strong heartbeat, but two percussionists. Ant introduced drummer Andy Woodard as “the Prime Minister of Rock” and Jola—the corseted lady of the group—as his “secret weapon.” The two timekeepers seemed to mirror each other’s moves all night, but closer inspection revealed the intricate parts assigned each on various tunes: One would lay down a Burundi beat, for example, as the other rolled and flayed the toms. Underpinned by blonde bassist Joel Holweger’s muscular lines, the dueling / synchronized drums doubled the rhythmic thunder for guitarist Tom Edwards—whose pedal board of effects afforded a wide palette of sonic choices. Sometimes his guitar even sounded like a keyboard.
The show’s second half saw Ant (now in his 50s) spinning and swaggering to Friend or Foe’s “Desperate But Not Serious” and “Goody Two Shoes” but channeling his nascent punk years with Dirk Wears White Sox selections “Whip in My Valise,” “Cleopatra,” and “Car Trouble.” He unbuttoned his gold-embroidered vest for “Strip,” tossing it to a stagehand. By show’s end he was down to a sleeveless tour Tee that bore his own (younger) visage—and revealed a pair of heavily-inked arms.
“Prince Charming” wrapped the main set, but the Agora applause brought Ant and friends back for encores “Press Darlings,” “Red Scab,” and “Physical.” The bespectacled singer augmented Edwards’ chords with his own beefy bits on an ancient-looking Gretsch guitar, powering his two-hour “Antmusic” marathon to its breathless, blissful conclusion.
Prima Donna opened with a forty-minute dose of throwback rock from its latest album, Bless This Mess. Fronted by the raven-headed Kevin Preston (guitar, vocals), the L.A. quintet got the adrenaline pumping with “Sociopath,” “Soul Stripper,” and “Feral Children.” Erik Arcane (lead guitar) and “Lights Out” Levine (bass) rocked the stage to Preston’s right, while Aaron Minton (keys, sax) presided to his left. David S. Field kept the motor running behind the drums—but shared swigs of beer with Preston between numbers. The guys sent out “Psycho” to deceased hillbilly hell-rocker Nick Curran, dialed up retro guitar sounds on “Maxine,” and bid farewell with “I Don’t Want You to Love Me.”
Fans of both West Coast glam and hair-band rock (Motley Crue, Guns ‘n’ Roses) and old-school East Coast noise (Ramones, Blondie, New York Dolls) would do well to give Prima Donna a spin. It’s likely the boys will be headlining mid-size venues next time around.