“Stand and deliver, your money or your life!”
The words of one of Adam Ant’s biggest hits come back to bite him painfully in the nether regions in this, the first of a two-date “world tour of London”.
There he stands, like an imported exhibit from a Madame Tussauds gallery of 1980s pop, on which somebody has scribbled a moustache. The costume is the same, a semi military, vaguely Lord Nelson number that looks undeniably impressive, but when the cameras pan out two members of the Satanic Sluts are revealed – Georgina Baillie (yes, that Georgina, latterly of Sachsgate), and Hayley Leggs. Something already feels wrong.
The lack of atmosphere is startling. The Electric Ballroom no more than 30% full. On stage, the band are not exactly charming princes either. “Red Scab!” yells a punter. “We’ve already fucking played that one!” retorts the guitarist. “You should have got here earlier!” Merry Christmas.
They comprehensively fail to deliver. In what is rumoured to be a two and a half hour set, someone omits from the advertising that we are to be subjected to Christmas songs from Frank Sinatra in a lengthy interval between two sets, the first of which feels like a rehearsal. Quite frankly, though, this gig is so strange no one would bat an eyelid if ol’ Blue Eyes himself appeared from the ceiling to do a cover of Ant Rap.
What happens instead is that some songs, a stately Prince Charming aside, are stretched to interminable lengths, so much so that it becomes possible to contemplate an all too rare gigging experience, that of two comfort breaks in the same song. Going to the bar isn’t an option – it has already closed for the night. At 10:15. Staff are even putting out the rubbish as the action continues onstage, the night swiftly descending towards the farcical.
Still the music is unrelenting. Ant and his band think nothing of inserting Deep Purple‘s Black Night into Shaking All Over, a musical crime on several levels, and nor is the mood improved by a turgid cover of Honky Tonk Women. And then, just when we think things could sink no lower, the nadir. A few shouts from stage right contain the words “highwayman”, “disgrace” and “robbing bastard” in the same sentence, and we’re over the edge, Ant unleashing a tirade that might be more effective if set to music. Several personal insults follow, the crowd encouraged to seek retribution, before a final flourish of “Fuck off!”
Case closed – and with that he is gone, into the night. Ten minutes later the lighting optimistically changes, revealing even more of the Electric Ballroom floor than we have already seen, but then we are told that’s it.
Ant has won sympathy through his frank biography, documenting the torture of his ongoing battles against manic depression, which have clearly taken a lot out of him. With displays like this, however, he risks losing even that sympathy. Incidents like this are hardly unprecedented in recent months, and make it increasingly difficult to put forward a case for his defence, especially considering the money his diehard fans have had to part with to be here.
50 pounds, to be precise. Yes – 50. And as we swiftly pass the merchandise stall on the way out, with its offers of 40 souvenir sets, we contemplate the exploitation of the fans. Would you pay this sum of money to see a man who really ought to consider the virtues of performing live at the moment? Your money, or your life? Both were sacrificed here, with neither able to be reclaimed on appeal, the whole experience leaving an unpleasant taste in the mouth.
Meanwhile down the road at the O2 Arena, Lady Gaga exhorts her fans to “eat Santa” for Christmas. At the Electric Ballroom, we have to make do with Scrooge. And stollen for afters.