Adam Ant, Relentless Garage, London

Adam Ant is making a comeback. Nothing odd there, I hear you say: 1980s stars are always making comebacks. Why shouldn’t the Dandy Highwayman get in on the act too?

The answer doesn’t make for easy reading. The singer, real name Stuart Goddard, has a history of psychiatric problems dating back to his 20s, with recurrence as recently as May.

With an album due in January, Tuesday’s show was meant to be the largest he has played on the comeback trail. The scheduled venue had a capacity of more than 2,000, a hubristic ticket price of £50 (almost £60 with larcenous box office charges) led to a downgrade to the Relentless Garage, a 600-capacity club that was less than half full.

The set, in abrasive tribute to Ant’s spirit-of-’76 punk roots, was made up of back catalogue obscurities, a few hits (too few) and covers of Stooges and Sex Pistols’ songs. Some of it was electrifying – the heavily tattooed, bandana-wearing Ant looked eerily like Dennis Hopper’s character from Apocalypse Now during a savagely intense “Red Scab” – some terrible (“Scorpio Rising”) and some of it was plain creepy: namely the songs when Ant pawed his very young-looking female backing singers.

After a mid-set break he returned in a tricorne, 18th-century tunic and a T-shirt with a portrait of him in his 1980s heyday, all cheekbones and androgynous beauty. It was the signal for a smattering of hits: “Prince Charming” was sludgy, “Stand and Deliver” was boisterous and “Antmusic” was superb. Then the show dwindled into a series of barrelhouse punk covers, climaxing with a revolting reworking of “Born in the USA”.

Through all this Ant’s manner was mercurial, alternately flirtatious, camp, menacing and simmering with rage. How much was a performance is hard to say: he did after all have a side-career as an actor. If you’d wandered into a pub and seen him playing you’d have been transfixed, in an unsettled way. But at £60 a ticket, it smacked of contempt and self-sabotage. ()

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