The Stranglers : Liverpool Academy : March 2012 : live review

The Stranglers
Liverpool Academy
March 2012
live review

Hanging Around- the Stranglers relentless invention wins again

Hanging Around- the Stranglers relentless invention wins again

The first thing we see tonight is the great artwork from the new Stranglers album, the review copy I was sent had the empty nooses but the final version is the pleasingly dark shot of the band swinging from the rope. The inside of the gatefold sleeve has the rather too well done shots of the band as cadavers- it’s a powerful picture and perfect for an album that touches on mortality and the sort of classic dark joke that the band always specialised in.

The band themselves are anything but dead, the current Stranglers defy the years with a live set that is full of twists and turns and the creativity of a unit that is still very much alive.

The Stranglers are suited to being veterans, they were always built with this in built resilience and it’s paying off now.

The band are on a creative high. At this stage of the game this should not really be happening. There are rules in rock n roll and this deep into a career a band should be coasting on the hits but the Stranglers have only just gone and released an album that equals their classic early work. ‘Giant’s works because they have got their sound exactly right by simplifying the mix and re-establishing the lead bass with the inventive guitar and lysergic keyboard and jazz drum mix that is the hallmark of their sound but doing this for the 21st century with a crisp, perfect production.

The album is getting great reviews and should re-establish them as a critical force, live they take this onto the stage in a set list that is one of 4 different ones they have worked out for the tour and works perfectly, pulling off the near impossible task of finding a song balance from their 38 year run.

There is a lot of stuff to choose from and the balance between massive hits like Golden Brown and No More Heroes and a great version of Strange Little Girl and obscure cuts like (Hey) Rise Of The Robots and Shut Up is perfect. The band have a fan base that is devoted- the black clad, cult feel of some strange religion- and its tricky to keep the balance between the big hits for the casual listener and the kind of songs like the one minute long, proto hardcore rush of the rarely played Shut Up, a b side that is cherished by the superfan.

There are also lots of new songs and they sit perfectly in the set, they don’t sound like the ‘new ones’- the kind of tracks that are there for one tour and cause a rush to the bar, these songs sound like they will sit in the Stranglers set for a long time. It would be great to hear the whole album live, a rule wrecking move for sure but something an idiosyncratic band like this could get away with, bands these days play the classic old album and the Stranglers did it themselves with Black And White last November- a set that seems to have influenced their current live set and the balance of live sound the the Burnel black belt bass in full force. One day someone will just go and play the whole of the new album and 17 albums in the Stranglers seem perfectly placed to do this.

Tonight we get the catchy and pleasingly dark album title track with JJ singing of the ‘little men with little hearts’ referring to last year’s riots with the kind of world weary darkness that the band were always really good at- the song is one of the key cuts from the new album, ‘Time Was Once On My Side’ is classic snarling Stranglers as Burnel rails against the rush of time, Mercury Rising is proper off the wall Stranglers, all time signatures, great collapsing riffs and a great chorus, it’s one of those songs were the riffs just about hang together in a deliberate shape shifting way, in a recent interview JJ said that the Meninblack album was his favourite Stranglers album and its genuine weirdness flavours this song.

The gig also sees one of those ‘incidents’ that used to pepper Stranglers gigs in the old days. Someone decides they should throw a pint of beer at JJ, god knows why people bother doing this, if the gear gets full of beer the gig is over and a room full of pretty pissed off people is the result. Add to this that throwing beer at Burnel is a deadly persuit and he has the hapless victim locked in a dark stare till the song ends when he calmly puts the bass down and climbs off the stage. The whole room takes a deep breath, and at the front the beer thrower is pushed forward by the annoyed and a pretty nervous section of the crowd, in the old days JJ would have taken the assailant down but the self control he has picked up from years of karate sees him deal out a playful wacking of the cowering beer chucker. There is an attempt to get the attacker on the stage to mop up the floor swimming in beer but frozen with fear he remains in the safety of the crowd and the bass player mops up the stage himself in a powerful display of humbleness and control before taking the mic ‘if you were half the man you never could be I would have taken you out’ the crowd cheer.

From the start the band set the stall opening with a fierce and infernally dark Burning Up Time, followed by Sometimes – one of their finest musical moments- with its running bass and also great keyboard work from Dave Greenfield and then the powerful shots of Lowlands from the new album that fits in perfectly with the older tunes but updates the sound to the now. Then just to really slap you awake it’s Rise Of The Robots and the classic Hanging Around- the top 5 single that never was. the set is full of twists and turns and a reflection of an inventive and classic canyon of songs, they even find time to play a rare mark 2 era song, Time To Die which sound far better given the proper sound from the band who sound totally different from their nineties incarnation- there were some great songs in that period but they were recorded badly- maybe a re-recoring of some of this material would make an interesting side project?

The Stranglers have pulled off the near impossible trick of sounding classic and current- trust me I see a lot of current bands and the meninblack are right in the 21st century mix.

After the gig JJ thanks me for the positive review of the album on this site- the reality is that it’s a great album, we could be cool and sneer at the record or brush it aside with a journalistic flick of the wrist but it’s a great work and been played over and over here and most people agree with the review’s sentiments now the album is out, he also grins about the band’s commercially suicidal decisions but in many ways it’s this instinctive decision making that saw them put out a zig zagging run of singles and avoid the obvious choices that was their real strength. It has kept them fresh and innovative for decades, operating outside the rule book. They have never become bogged down in that career by committee that makes the likes of U2 a distinctly average proposition. The Stranglers operate beyond the rule book and by their own force of nature and as the close the set tonight with a brutal version of ‘Tank’ they sound as fresh and fired up as they did when that song was first played live decades ago and that’s some achievement from a band that refuses to sit still.

setlist

Burning Up Time
Sometimes
Lowlands
(Hey) Rise Of The Robots
Hanging Around
Unbroken
Time Was On Our Side
Golden brown
Strange Little Girl
Walk On By
Giants
Peaches
Mercury Rising
VHF
I’ve Lost Control
Shut up
No More Heroes
Relentless
Something Better Change

Time To Die
Duchess

All of the Day And All Of The Night
Tank

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19 comments on “The Stranglers : Liverpool Academy : March 2012 : live review”

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  1. great gig,a fine and balanced set,old new,obscure,a fitting testament to the best band ever,revered in my house by my wife and son,long may they reign,roll on manchester…..rick.

  2. Cath Aubergine

    That sounds like a great gig, not going to see them til Sheffield on the 23rd which seems ages off right now, hope they’re still on good form by the time they get there!

  3. Bobby Finnegan

    Best gig ever. Bit gutted they didn’t play nice and sleazy or always the sun, but for me the raven was the best sond on the night. Tank was good aswell. New stuff seems ace, I’ll be buying the new album next week.

  4. They played Glasgow last Saturday and I was really looking forward to the gig after hearing the new album ‘teasers’. Jock the Box started the night off with his unique rendition of Waltzinblack – a new classic! The band were excellent and clearly enjoying the gig too.

    But…… the sound was awful!! Someone shoot that sound engineer – what a cloth-eared twat! He had all the compressors switched on for every channel which meant that there were no proper dynamics.

    He had also limited the mix on the bass guitar and keys wrongly – all mid, no bottom or top end. As a consequence, the bass was all middy – NOT a JJ sound! The keys were just a racket – no discernible notes, just a mishmash of noise.

    The drums sounded great, as did the vocals. The guitar was far too low in the mix – I could see Baz playing solos but couldn’t hear them.

    I am sick of going to gigs and hearing shite! Too many sound engineers fuck up great bands with great songs with their crap engineering skills.

    No doubt the stage sound was excellent as I’m sure the band would not have tolerated the sound we heard. But, someone’s got to sort this out. Its fucking annoying!!

    Something better change!

  5. The sound at Rock City was much the same. (Hello Mick by the way). There was no lead vocal at all on the opening song and then a generally mushy sound. Couldnt hear the guitar. Sack the sound man!

  6. Sawe The Stranglers in Dunfermline on Friday. If I had one complaint it was that the lighting was too static. I remember last year when I saw them, I was standing beside the lighting console and during the support act, the lighting engineer was playing the faders, pushing buttons etc like crazy, in time with the music. He was a young guy but he knew his stuff and as a result the light show was quite good. Cue The Stranglers, new engineer on desk, an old codger who, well basically did fuck all, as a result, there was very little change in the lighting throughout each song. I would like to see more movement in the lighting.A good light show, or at least a well choreographed and dynamic lighting rig can do wonders for a song, doesn’t have to be a massive rig but a undynamic show can also kill a gig. The lighting has NOT been doing justice to the music of The Stranglers.

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