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Adam Ant talks comebacks and the pratfalls of performing a 37-year-old classic

click to enlarge Adam Ant: Not what the tabloids say.

Andy Gotts

Adam Ant: Not what the tabloids say.

At 62, Stuart Leslie Goddard, is pretty spry for an old white guy. The singer, actor, history buff and autobiographer whom you know by his artistic pseudonym, Adam Ant, is seemingly beating a brand new path on the comeback trail. A road warrior, to be sure, out playing his 1980 Adam and the Ants album, Kings of the Wild Frontier in its entirety, as well as some of his other hits from his time with both the Ants and his solo career.

If perhaps you weren't born until after the 1980s, here's some quick backstory: Adam Ant first burst onto the U.K. music scene as a member of Adam and the Ants in 1977. After a solid five-year run as one of the premier British bands, which produced three acclaimed LPs, the Ants disbanded and Ant went solo. With the initial release of Friend or Foe in 1982, which hit No. 16 on the U.S. charts, Ant was a bonafide rock 'n' roll star. After releasing several more solo albums, including three between 1984 and 1990 that saw some solid success, Ant faded from the spotlight until two well-publicized brushes with the law in the early aughts brought a different kind of attention to the typically genial star.

Ant's a gentleman on the phone. He's soft-spoken, exudes some classic British charm, and responds to praise of his work with a humbleness that sounds genuine, and refreshing. That's not exactly how he's been portrayed in the tabloids. His career's been up and down, but to hear him speak, you'd never guess the downside.

But you know the upside. Ant's Kings of the Wild Frontier is a pretty fantastic memory. No wonder he's taken the warhorse of an album out for a live spin.

For Ant, returning to Kings, which hit No.1 in the UK and went Top 50 on the Billboard album chart, is also a labor of love—with serious emphasis on the labor part.

"The songs are all pretty difficult," Ant says from his home in England. "I haven't done anything to change the keys or make them easier. I wanted to capture the sound (of the album) live. It's exactly as the record was recorded. You learn a lot about the actual construction of the songs and how challenging they are to reproduce live. Certainly vocally, and percussively. It was quite an experience."

Fans will remember tunes like the post-punk glitter-stomp of "Ant Music," and the snake-y guitar intro of "Ant Invasion," but the entire album absolutely slays, down to its musical nods to spaghetti westerns. Marco Pirroni was a perfect guitar-hero counterpart for Ant's fist-pumping and gloriously repetitious chant-melodies. The thundering glam-tribal beats by drummers Merrick (Chris Hughes) and Terry Lee Miall, and Kevin Mooney's roiling bass, owned the dancefloor. It was witty, punchy, fun and even challenging, and unlike anything else that came out of the time. It's a remarkable timepiece, yeah, but the album holds up well to this day.

So how hard will it be to perform Kings live, the songs in the same running order as the album?

"Normally you do a concert and take selections from the catalog and you can chop it and change it sporadically," Ant says. "When you take a set piece of work that you know people know and have listened to it a number of times over the course of years, you know that they are listening to twelve songs, not just one individual song or a single. You know that every song is as important as any other. It's a completely different experience when playing an album in its entirety."

Some of the songs on Kings were never performed live prior the first leg of this tour, which began last year overseas. That's a challenge certain bands face when they undertake tours dedicated to one vintage album. Some songs just weren't meant to be played live, either because they were fillers or because they were too complex to perform with any gusto.

"There were quite a number we hadn't performed live before," Ant says. "'Feed Me To The Lions' and 'Making History' and 'Magnificent Five' were tracks that we hadn't done. I've dipped into Kings over the last five or six years after coming back into music, but those tracks are quite fun." He pauses, and then he says, "'Human Beings' is a very sensual song. It's really just a groove of drums and vocals. Very interesting structure. It took a little bit of time to come to terms with that.

"You have to go back and really absorb it all and pay attention to it," he adds. "It's always going to be important to stay true to them."

The journey to bring this show to the desert has been extensive, and not without paying the ultimate price. Guitarist Tom Edwards, 41, who had played with Ant for several years, died in late January this year, of (suspected) heart failure. It happened in New Jersey, just two shows into this final leg of this tour. Edwards was a veteran musician who had played with several notable bands and artists, including Fields of Nephilim and Edwyn Collins. Ant and the remaining band members, drummers Jola and Andy Woodard, bassist Joe Holweger, and guitarist Will Crewdson, decided to cancel two shows, New York City and Philadelphia, but at the urging of Edwards' family, agreed to continue the tour in Toronto on Sunday, January 29.

Ant, who was interviewed for this piece prior to Edwards' death, was optimistic about the future for his four-year-old combo. He was steadfast in the idea of moving forward with new music after spending so much time revisiting his past—this after spending the years between 2001 and 2009 away from performing.

"I think taking time away from (music) makes you appreciate what brought you to it," he says. "You have to think about what made you make the choice to come back to it, as well. I've been working on a new record. I wanted to get the Kings tour done first and then come to that later. I wanted to give it some space, but I'm looking forward to it. It's the best stuff I've done so far."


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