Reunion Tower’s shiny balls are ready for the holidays. (Photo by Justin Terveen)
Ever since we lived in Baltimore, we’ve had Indian food for Thanksgiving. Back in ‘97 we wanted to go out and the Indian restaurant was the only one open. Over the years, we’ve sometimes had dinner out, and sometimes made our own Tandoori Turkey; this year was a day on the town. We had an amazing meal at our favorite Indian restaurant and followed it up with a showing of Jab Tak Hai Jaan at our favorite Indian movie theater.
I can’t recommend this style of Thanksgiving celebration enough. Remember, it’s how Columbus would have wanted it.
I bought tickets to see Adam Ant in January. The original date for the show was February 7th, but it was rescheduled for September 21st when it turned out his new album was delayed until Fall. When I heard that the new record was delayed again until early in 2013 I feared the show too would be bumped, but thankfully it went on as rescheduled.
Opening for Adam was a local band called The Justin Kipker Show, fronted by the titular Justin. At first I thought they might be having a bit of a go at Adam, for they came out in odd, sort of steampunk, kinda cowboy, kinda cabaret costumes. However, once the music started and they were playing some varient of say, Nick Cave in a “spooky” Doors-go-surf-rock melange, I figured this was their thing and not a sad send-up. Neither myself, nor my wife, nor the crowd was too interested in their set of originals. They closed with a cover of T. Rex’s “20th Century Boy” that wasn’t too bad, though it ended up being the second best T. Rex cover of the evening.
To be fair, nobody was there to see the opening band. This sellout crowd was for Adam. It was weird to be at a show and be part of the younger end of the audience demographic; I would say the median age was late 40s to early 50s, with a good smattering of folks within 20 years of that on either end, and a few families with young kids to skew the average. But this was mainly folks reliving their teen years, and many a Pirate Grannie were to be seen in the crowd.
Adam took the stage in proper Dandy coat and a bicorne hat, worn rakishly athwart like a bespectacled and mustachioed Napoleon.
[This is not my photo. Mine suck and are from far away. This is from Chris Matthews, taken at the Apple Cart Festival earlier this year]
He and his band — the Good, the Mad and the Lovely Posse — launched quickly and powerfully into “Plastic Surgery”; a surprising opener, but one which heralded that this was Adam in full rock mode, guitar heavy and forceful, more akin to the original Ants of the Dirk Wears White Sox era than the heavy horns of his pop megastardom. Over the next 90 minutes or so the band tore through 28 or 29 songs (I don’t think they played “Deutscher Girls”, but otherwise the setlist matched the one from Austin a few nights earlier). Though he played most of the big hits he had both here and abroad (though no “Apollo 9” nor “Puss ‘n Boots”), it was the deep cuts and b-sides that surprised me. I would never have guessed that the set would include “Beat My Guest”, “Never Trust A Man (With Egg On His Face)”, “Lady/Fall-In”, “Christian D’Or”, “Fat Fun”, or “Red Scab”. When that last song started up I turned to my wife with an ear to ear grin and said, “I can’t believe they’re playing this!”
I was also excited that this show featured so much of the material from the original late 70s Ants releases. It made up about a third of the set, and the one new song, “Vince Taylor”, was more akin to that sound than to the popstar era. It makes me hopeful that the upcoming Adam Ant Is the Blueblack Hussar in Marrying the Gunner’s Daughter will be a solid addition to his catalog.
But back to the show. Adam took a few songs to warm up his voice, and he missed a few vocal jumps in “Dog Eat Dog”. But by the time he launched into “Car Trouble” he was nearly note perfect, with no strain on those high notes that launch each chorus. His voice continued to be strong and supple throughout the night, with no sign of diminishing capacity as he nears 60 years of age. He may not be as svelte as he once was, and his catlike grace is now one of an aged feline with a bad hip, but this was a man giving everything to his audience and getting pure adoration in return. The man still has charisma by the bucketful; you couldn’t take your eyes off of him for more than a few seconds. He has a towering presence.
As I said, he had the crowd hypnotized. These were fans, not people out for a casual night of entertainment, and the singing along, screaming and roars of applause were ever present. It was like the Iron Maiden show I saw a little while back, a tribe of like minded individuals there to pay homage as much as to listen to the music. To hear a packed house of around 1000 people sing “A new royal family/A wild nobility/We are the family” along with Adam and his band at the start of “Kings Of The Wild Frontier” was thrilling.
I mentioned earlier that the opener’s best song was the second best T. Rex tune of the evening. Well, Adam and co. played “Get It On” in the middle of the encore, and they made it properly Ant-like. The dual drummers definitely gave it more kick, and Adam rolling from it into “Prince Charming” made perfect sense; Adam’s evolution of the Dandy In The Underworld laid bare.
I told my wife there is only one possible closer, for nothing can follow it. And when Adam sang, “You’re. So. Phys-i-cal!” and the quick snare figure led to that low bass rumble, I merely nodded. It might not be the best Adam Ant song, but it’s a singular work, the most grinding of grinding sex songs. A perfect sweaty end to the evening.
Adam Ant and the Good, the Mad and the Lovely Posse.
I went back to Deep Ellum the night after YOB, but this time I was across the street at Trees to catch Swans. I was pleasantly surprised to see my new friend Kenny, whom I had met at the Agalloch show a few weeks back. He and his wife (whose name I forget, because my ability to retain names is legendarily horrible) and I chatted for a while before the show, and I would return to talk and hang with them throughout the night. It’s always a pleasure to have someone to share a show with, and I expect Kenny and I will see more shows together in the coming year.
Before the show, I made my way over to the merch table, figuring I’d buy a shirt or the live disc from the last tour. I was tempted by both, but I ended up buying only one thing, this stunning Brian Ewing print that was done for this particular show:
As the poster indicates, opening for Swans on this tour was Xiu Xiu, an artist I’ve never warmed to or even found particularly palatable. I appreciate that Jamie Stewart’s art is intense, personal, and incredibly heartfelt by his fans, so I approached it with open ears and an open mind. His set this night did not convert me, but I could appreciate his intensity. Though his one man band was never going to approach Swans in volume, the energy and fierceness of his performance was a good aesthetic fit with the headliners. It was almost uncomfortable to witness, a soul bearing flagellation through music.
[One quick aside: he used a single pole theremin for a screaming peal of sound on a couple of tracks. As a proudly incompetent thereminist I hate the faux theremin sound effect thing, whether from Xiu Xiu or Jimmy Page.]
Swans took the stage shortly after the Xiu Xiu set and from the opening notes the volume was visceral and painful. I was about 10-15 feet from the stage, and my loose jeans rippled around my ankles, my sternum felt like I was being slapped, and my guts began to churn. I’ve only been at two other shows that approached this level of physical assault; My Bloody Valentine in 1992, and A Tribe Called Quest in 1994 (the bass at that show was nearly bowel loosening, and was not helped by being in a concrete box of a venue). After the opening song, as Michael Gira berated the club for having televisions on during his set, I went back another 25-30 feet from the stage in the hopes of lessening the assault and not throwing up. This seemed to do the trick; they actually got louder, but my pants stopped rippling and my stomach stopped churning.
Swans present a rather static alignment on stage, with only Gira free to move from set positions. He did move a bit to engage with his fellow musicians, though it was more often to correct and express displeasure than to commune in any positive way at the shared experience of the music. But despite his occasional outbursts, the band was amazingly tight, almost a singular entity. It wasn’t a case of lockstep, machine-like precision, but a oneness of a common pulse, a shared heartbeat. This organic singularity, when combined with the modulating mantra-like quality of Gira’s lyrics, is what makes this current incarnation of Swans so powerful. The volume, the intake and outburst of the music, the monotone repetition of the vocals, and the length of the songs (they played I think 7 songs in 2 hours) all combined to bind the audience to the band in a way I’ve rarely experienced. It forced me out of myself and into the sound; the volume almost erases conscious thought (The Goslings’ Grandeur Of Hair is the only record to ever do this to me, and My Bloody Valentine the only live act), the living pulse connects to the body rhythms in a way that made me sway and move like a sea anemone in the ocean current, and the vocal repetition became prayer-like.
This came to the finest focus in the vocal glossolalia Gira employed in the song “Avatar”; he began with vocal play through rearrangement, with a line something like, “Her mind is in my mind” becoming “Her mouth is in my mind” then “Her mind is in my mouth” then “Her mouth is in my mouth” over a minute or so, each line repeated multiple times. After several verses of simple line repetition and variation, the play broke down to sound, a “ba ba bla bly blue bla blee bly bee bee ba bla bleeeeeeee” or somesuch as he waved in and out of the microphones pickup range. It hit me like a truck; a moment of zen enlightenment through nonsense koan. Swans had moved from concert to religious experience.
My reverie didn’t break until, during the performance of set closer “The Apostate” from new album The Seer, Gira became visibly and vocally upset at drummer Phil Puleo, who apparently was not varying the beat to his satisfaction. I say that was the issue because Gira would, at the end of a verse, step back toward’s Puleo, facing him and waving his arms in imitation of a crazy drum fill, smashing air snares and cymbals with reckless, haphazard abandon. Phil Puleo would then play a series of anarchic fills, before returning to what was already a hectic baseline drum pattern. This in turn would cause Gira to turn back to him, get even closer to his kit, and manically play his air drums yet again. Puleo would dutifully nod his ascent, play a series of crazy fills for 30 seconds or so, then exhaustedly drop back to the baseline. Eventually, this was too much for the bandleader who stepped away from the mic in obvious disgust, waving his arms back and forth at waist height, the universal sign for cut/stop/end. The band began to wind down, slowing gradually to a stop over the next minute or two, while Gira continued waving his arms and yelling at Puleo off mic. As they stopped he said, “That’s it. You can meet us over there,” motioning to the merch table. It was a bit of a sour note to end on, and though it couldn’t dampen my experience of the preceding two hours, it did stop me from bringing my poster over to get signed.
Would I go again? Absolutely. My hearing should have recovered by the time the come back through in a year or two.