March 15th 2013
photo by John Robb
Surely this is against the rules.
There’s no way this deep into a career a band can be peaking again.
Yet here are The Stranglers, 40 years down the line delivering some of the best gigs I’ve seen them play in years of watching them. Tonight we are at he Roundhouse, scene of so many of their legendary shows back in the punk rock wars which is sold out and the atmosphere is fervent as the meninblack take the stage.
The set they deal out tonight covers so many bases and underlines their eclectic and thrilling journey that it never sits still. The band’s imaginative and inventive music is all there from the waltz like mega hit Golden Brown to the snarling dark humour of Bring On The Nubiles to the ambitious modern Strangler classic Freedom Is Insane. Every song in the set is a curveball as the band don’t rest. No other group has managed to be this diverse or this willful and as the set unfolds the band are in a triumphant mood.
The sound is perfect tonight. Whoever is doing their sound these days is on the same wavelength as the band and JJ’s bass is the best I’ve heard it for years- with the signature sound cutting through and shaping the songs just as it should be. When the band play Skin Deep, one of their later period songs that was recorded with a sort of electro pop feel, it sounds monstrous with the bass line giving it a whole new powerful dimension- the same goes for European Female which makes a welcome return to the set and Midnight Summer Dream- both songs a reminder that there were many great moments on those later, often overlooked, less snarly more pop Strangler albums.
Of course there is Genetix as well with JJ’s bass master class and that bass solo in the middle that still sounds outrageous with its dexterity and melodic imagination. It’s a jaw dropping moment.
The band seem to be a creative high at the moment, the current album, Giants, is their best since the Raven and several of its cuts are played tonight and fit perfectly with the hits and obscure classic from the so called glory days. Baz Warne is really delivering it now and it’s a surefire sign of his place is Stranglers history that no-one talks about whether he or Hugh are right for the group- for me there are two great periods of this band’s history- the classic IV and the current line up, both different versions of the same machine.
The biggest cheer of the night is for when Jet Black enters the stage 2/3 of the way through for Genetix. The 74 year old drummer has been ill recently but has recovered enough to play the rousing end section of the set. His very presence is enough for the fans who recognise his spirit as being undistilled pure Strangler and his powerful drumming is a reminder of his key contribution to the band’s sound.
The set tonight fires up the hits like Duchess, Something Better Change, and Peaches as well as near hits like the baffling non top 10 rush of the great Who Wants The World. The songs don’t sound dated but classic and urgent at the same time, they open with a swaggering Toiler On The Sea and there are album cuts like a razor sharp rasping Bitching with that great belligerent vocal from JJ Burnel which is snarling in its brute power, a rushing Goodbye Toulouse with its apocolyptic lyrics, a great version of the neo disco Thrown Away which is a reminder of the band’s long lost classic meninblack album. The set ends with a vicious Straighten Out setting up the encores and climactic set ending two drummer assault of Tank.
God knows what the future of the band is but on current form you really can’t rule anything out. I go to see a lot of bands but few sound as urgent and hungry as the Stranglers and their inventive, highly original music suddenly seems to be in sharp focus and sounds very current in the UK and news of an upcoming American tour and a sold out UK tour in a time when most older bands are struggling only underlines that this band that don’t play by the rules are heading for a late period resurgence