TESTAMENT: live review

TESTAMENT @ OXFORD O2 ACADEMY, 19/6/2016

Track one: OVER. THE WALL. Foolhardily suicidal, or a Buster Gonad-sized show of ballsiness?

Buster G all the way, thrashers. When you’ve survived as much and as long as Testament have, there’s no danger of an old-skule anthem – a GENRE anthem, no less – blowing your load too early because you know you’ve got a tankload of classics to unearth, and that’s exactly what they do for the next hour and a half: lay a thrash masterclass on us with a line-up that almost defies the eyes. Chuck Billy front, Steve DiGiorgio bass, Alex Skolnick and Eric Peterson guitar pyro and, possibly the highest of highlights, machinist Gene Hoglan on drums… shit-yesss. Can’t claim familiarity with all or even most of his credentials but his un(s)toppable human-industrial assault on Strapping Young Lad’s City has blown my mind for nearly 20 years now, so the chance to see the SYL/Dark Angel/Death backbone ain’t one to miss. And here he is, with Testament in a not-packed O2, and their opening shot is Over the Wall. Does it get much better?

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Eric Peterson: hornthrower

One look at Chuck’s permasmiling face says it all: no, it doesn’t get much better, and his virtuoso mic stand air-guitaring tells you that he’s having a ball up there (though he still looks like he could twist your head off one-handed). As for Skolnick and Peterson… effortless displays of musicality and velocity.

Tracks played? Take your pick from any number of goldies from a lifetime in the thrash premiership…. The New Order, Dog Faced Gods, Practice What You Preach, Disciples of the Watch, Rise Up and More Than Meets the Eye span it all, while the mosh-mental Into the Pit – ‘written about the crazy motherfuckers when we started, and now it’s for YOU crazy motherfuckers’ – does no wrong. D.N.R. is, with Hogan propelling it, fearsome.

Formation of Damnation seals the night off, and if Chuck is distracted by mic issues then no-one on this side of the stage is. Formation is as rampant as everything else tonight and a colossal reminder not just of how special Testament are, but of how relevant they remain. Tonight’s gig has a real family feel about it, and at the head of it all is a class-act combo of passion, precision and bullshit-free speed metal.

Welcome back, Testament.

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ADAM ANT: live review

ADAM ANT @ OXFORD NEW THEATRE, 8/6/2016

Are we excited about this?

Oh yeah. Just a bit a lot. Heyday pop revivals aren’t the kind of gigs I go to but you’ll have to forgive the undercurrent of gush in this review because this is the exception: it’s ADAM ANT, and the New Theatre feels like a stage set for the return of a lost hero.

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Making History

Which, in many ways, it is. For many of us here tonight, Adam and the Ants weren’t just a pop band from back in the day. Adam and the Ants were/are Pop Love #1, the very first and first loves aren’t forgotten, are they? That stuff runs deep, and the reason why those albums from 1981 and 1982 remain in your life while others don’t is because every time you played them again, even after years of exploring and branching off and out into all kinds of music, you still loved the sounds that broke through the tape hiss.

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Remains of the day. KOTWF tape RIP

And in some ways, those A&TA albums sound even better and oddball eccentric on return. With more music and knowledge packing your ears and creaking your shelves (files? clouds?), Adam and the Ants aren’t just TOTP idols like they were when you were seven or eight. They’re post-punk, digging Bowie and Roxy and Iggy but flashfunflamboyant and rhythm-heavy with tough guitars and 50s surf and Western spaghetti and storytelling bravado… not the usual chart-topper mix, is it?

Now it’s 8 June 2016. Last week was the 40th anniversary of the Lesser Free Trade Hall gigs in Manchester by the Sex Pistols, a band who supported a pre-Ants Adam in Bazooka Joe, and it’s just gone 35 years since the Bazooka departer set Kings of the Wild Frontier loose. Adam Ant plays it in full.

So the show starts with the main item, straight in without announcement to Dog Eat Dog and on through to Human Beings without banter, deviation or improv. You’ve got the tracks, what else do you need to know? That the two-drummer line-up does the record’s Burundi rhythms justice? That Ant’s voice is ON and in top nick, and so is he, belying his 63 years with ease? 

True and staggeringly true. And if the guitar overdrive sometimed flattens the subtleties of the Ants’ original, it means his band are more than suited to the Dirk tracks that dominate the second half and to me, this is where the gig starts to feel like a proper gig. Not because Kings ain’t ace – it is – but because after that, we don’t know exactly what’s coming. Even Ant himself looks more relaxed post-Kings as he leads the band into Beat My Guest. And Christian D’or. And .. fuck it, I’m just gonna reel off as many tracks as I can remember in no particular order so that you know exactly what kind of a set he’s pulling off these days: Stand and Deliver. Cartrouble, Xerox, Never Trust a Man (With Egg on his Face), Vive le Rock, Press Darlings, Fall-In, Prince Charming, Desperate But Not Serious, Goody Two Shoes, Red Scab, Marc Bolan’s Get it On. How’s that for a bunch of killer tunes after an album of killer tunes? Vive Le Rock surprises – forgotten how ridiculously catchy it is – while Press Darlings has possibly the best stickwork of the night, which might be a controversial claim given that we’ve just had KOTWF in full but with those drums and that riff, the track takes on a Killing Joke air. Never noticed that before. 

The night ends with the ever-sleazy Physical (You’re So), a reminder of Adam Ant’s legacy, post-punk credentials and alt-rock influence. Still a showman, still a maverick and still carrying a misfit aura, the joy and affection pulsing out for the band and their leader is proof that we are all Ant’s people. Wherever next for the Wild Nobility?

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Oxford, penultimate date