Stranglers live review: ‘Still so much raw energy and power’

Rory O’Hara gives his verdict on the punk veterans’ swaggering show at Leeds 02 Academy on Tuesday night. 

For men in their 50’s and 60’s, ageing punk standard-bearers The Stranglers swagger out in front of a packed o2 Academy crowd with just enough bravado to further raise the hopes of every member of the audience.

Without a word they pick up their instruments, take their positions, and by the time Jean-Jacques Burnel has launched into a tantalisingly drawn out intro to 1979’s forceful punk anthem ‘Straighten Out’, the anticipation is palpable. It’s safe to say that hopes have now reached sky-high levels.

Several minutes later, thanks to classic hit ‘(Get a) Grip (on Yourself)’ from debut album Rattus Norvegicus, the band’s energy has spread to the entire crowd – largely no less senior than the musicians themselves. While some of the clarity of the lyrics can be lost in the faster-moving verses, Baz Warne’s snarling vocals shine through in the key chorus moments, and prove him every part the suitable and deserving replacement to the words’ original author, as he affectionately introduces ‘So Nice And Neat’ to the audience with the promise of a “ridiculous fluffy pink pop song”.

Inevitably, however, the stand-out sound for the evening, which cements itself in the first moments – and goes on to not-so-much hammer the nail home as flatten it with an anvil from 10 storeys up – is the unmistakable bass sound of JJ Burnel, somehow both growling and melodic all at once; most notably on ‘I feel like a w*g’, the opener of 1977’s landmark No More Heroes album, where it drives the momentum of the classic Stranglers sound: raw, powerful punk, with its crude slurring vocals augmented by unconventionally melodic organ stabs.

At times the show mellows and eases into crowd favourites, highlighting the diversity of music The Stranglers have produced over the years such as ‘Always the Sun’, and especially on The Raven’s ‘Duchess’, where Dave Greenfield’s keyboards are given the chance to stretch their legs and showcase the more experimental side of the band’s extensive back catalogue, as they throw a shimmering melancholic landscape across the venue.

It’s no shock to anyone when the most well received of these more tender moments proves to be ‘Golden Brown’, certainly bringing with it the most softly sung lyrics of the night – the only downfall here being the slight cracks that begin to show in Warne’s vocals as he slows down and draws out the melodies.

As the night moves towards its climax, the tempo is raised once again with Dionne Warwick’s ‘Walk On By’ in its rolling punk-rocker reincarnation, and The Kinks ‘All Day And All Of The Night’, complete with as perfectly executed a guitar solo as you could ever hope to hear, before the customary, obligatory short-lived wave and walk off stage.

The encore is everything it should be: bold, climactic, satisfying. ‘Peaches’ brings a menacing, sneering strut to the stage with Jet Black’s uncharacteristically slow drums danced around by the familiar bass, organ and punk rhetoric of the aging groups earliest years, while ‘No More Heroes’ follows it to bring the concert to a crashing head, and leave not a single member of the crowd wanting.

Ironically, the most poignant moment of the night doesn’t even come from The Stranglers’ own lyrics, but from those of The Kinks as Baz Warne assures the crowd: “I believe that you and me last forever”.

While it may not be true, for a band forty years on and still touring with this much raw energy and power, it certainly seems that way.

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