The Ant's not too old to stand and deliver

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The Independent Culture
SINCE you ask, yes, he played "Stand and Deliver", "Kings of the Wild Frontier", "Dog Eat Dog", "Antmusic" and "Goody Two Shoes". But no, he didn't play "Prince Charming" or "Antrap". But then, "Marco, Kris, Dave, Ruffy / Bruce, Dave, and yours tru-lee" wouldn't have had the same ring as 1981's Adam and the Ants roll-call.

Adam Ant seems barely to have aged since those days, but it has been a while, punctuated by unsuccessful records and less successful films. Now, even before the release of his new album, the hubristically-titled Wonderful (EMI), Eighties nostalgia has brought the King of the Wild Frontier back from the wilderness and on to the stage.

What was so remarkable about his concert at the Shepherd's Bush Empire on Wednesday was that he neither denied nor relied on his past. He played rocked-up versions of his old songs with unashamed gusto, got us dancing to the new ones, and even reminded us that there have been some decent tunes in between: a startling proportion of the crowd knew the words to 1985's "Vive Le Rock".

A banner at the back of the stage summed it up: inside his new symbol, a scribbled loveheart, is the familiar ant's head with Red Indian head- dress. Nowadays, though, the ant is a scrawnier, punk specimen with a cigarette in its little ant mouth. It also has a white stripe across its nose. Adam (well, I can't call him "Ant") does not.

He does, however, yelp and yodel like he used to, and does all those stylised gestures, poses and mad-eyed stares. When he acts, he always seems like a pop star. Singing pop songs, he seems like an actor.

There are two drummers for that trademark pipe-band rumble, and on guitar is time-honoured sidekick Marco Pirroni, who has changed from '81 and now looks like a Bond villain. He and Kris Dollimore, hyperactive guitarist of The Damned, knock out slabs of industrial metal, angular indie and perky pop. I expected the concert to be fun, but not to be so loud and spry. Adam lives up to that album title after all.

Radiohead would not be pleased to read a live review beginning with mention of their 1993 single, "Creep". The awesome bedsit anthem, which makes the Smiths' "How Soon is Now" seem like a rugby song, brought them American acclaim well past anything that nobodies like Blur have achieved. It also brought them a "one-hit-wonder" tag, and they're now likely to hit anyone who asks to hear the song again.

And yet, at the London Forum on Friday, they play it, which is as much of a pleasant surprise as Adam Ant's oldies. "Don't know what this one's called, never heard of it..." mumbles singer Thom Yorke, but the 'Head boys wrench it out with passion, and it epitomises their strengths.

Almost obscured in smoke and shadows, Yorke's scraggy frame twitches and hunches and writhes as if he were having a painful fit, and I mean that in a nice way. His voice, racked with longing, soars effortlessly to registers that give most rock singers altitude sickness. Like Suede, Radiohead go beyond the pop ballad and into the realm of the torch song. Yorke is flanked by guitarists Ed O'Brien and Jonny Greenwood, who come up with a novel sound on this and almost every other song.

Radiohead are Britain's Nirvana (but then, Britain's Elvis was Cliff Richard), and it's all thanks to my friend James. Back when they were at school in Oxford, when even O'Brien, the largest of them, was nicknamed "Foetus", James used to bully them. This experience no doubt set off the self-loathing that fuels their art, and as a direct result, their potent second album, The Bends (EMI), has gone straight into the British charts at number six.

Even though they dispense with That Song in the main set they are called back for three encores. Well done, James.

"Everybody's wondering what is Little Axe," says Skip McDonald at London's Borderline on Tuesday, "and who are Little Axe and where are Little Axe..." In theory, it shouldn't be too much of a puzzle. Little Axe are a fashionable new dub-blues band led by the preternaturally mellow McDonald, formerly of the Sugarhill Band and Tackhead (he and bassist Michael Mondesir wear Tackhead baseball caps). But McDonald sometimes calls himself Little Axe, and his real name is Bernard Alexander, so it does get confusing.

Another mystery is why Mondesir has a Marmite jar Velcro-ed to his bass, but even that conundrum is not as enigmatic as the music. It's a trippy, spacey vibe, orbiting round two basses and a drum machine. Drummer Keith LeBlanc adds jazzy syncopation, and on top of that there is McDonald, a laidback Hendrix, sustaining notes as if he had only a few to spare, and stamping on effects pedals as if they were cockroaches. Meanwhile, McDonald and vocalists Kevin Gibbs and Saz Bell intone portentous lyrics; an entrancing mystery. As for Mondesir's Marmite jar: in one song he used it as a plectrum, obviously.

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