Legendary rockers The Stranglers are one of the most continually successful bands still around from the punk/new wave artists of the late ’70s/’80s. They tour pretty much every year to huge crowds; their legacy will always live on. Tonight in Manchester it’s a sold out Academy gig, an audience of 2600 eagerly awaiting to see a band most of them will have seen over 30 years prior. As a younger music fan, it makes me question as to which bands will still be around in 30 years – Muse, Coldplay, Mumford & Sons – who’s going to grace our stages in the 2040s? We’ll just have to wait and see.
I walk in as second support The Rezillos begin their last song and big hit ‘Top Of The Pops’. Despite coming to prominence at a similar time to The Stranglers, The Rezillos split up after the release of their first and only album and had much more a light-hearted and relaxed approach to the punk genre than many others. Fay Fife may as well not have aged, she and the other members jump around the stage like no time has passed. The only difference is they’re playing a significantly bigger stage to back in the day. The energy is insurmountable, it’s all great fun.
A huge backdrop of The Stranglers logo hangs high above the drum kit, lights flash erratically, different colours and directions, as the beginning of ‘Meninblack’ plays as their walk in song. True to their word, dressed in all black, the men pick up their guitars for the beginning of a 2 hour set of nostalgia and brand new rock tunes. Immediately we dive into ‘Longships’ – a swift and exciting intro full of momentum, then straight into the next track on the album of the same name, The Raven. This is the first of many crazy reactions from the crowd, at an average age of 50 (but still the mindsets of their 20s), the old punk rockers sing along with every word of ‘The Raven’ – and lots of the guitar lines as well. Intricate and erratic guitars flit in and around the many keyboard solos smashed by original member Dave Greenfield. If you could genuinely use the phrase “face-melting” for a solo, his would be the one.
Baz Warne, lead vocalist and guitarist for The Stranglers for the last 15 years, is very happy to such a present and attentive audience for tonight’s show “It’s Manchester. It’s fucking sold out. Yes. Take it away Dave”. Although the band use a regular touring drummer, original drummer Jet Black is now welcomed on stage to play a few songs. Despite this being a regular occurrence at every show, it’s still a special moment for the band and us in the crowd below as they perform all the hits with Jet from ‘Baroque Bordello’, ‘Golden Brown’, ‘Always The Sun’ and even ‘Genetix’. Warne and Burnel haven’t lost any vocal stability whatsoever, varying ranges and tones they perform perfectly – not a single slip up, they’re very well practiced.
Warne introduces us to roadie Andy, and somehow ends up being peer pressured into showing 2600 punks his arse after a chorus of “SHOW US YOUR ARSE ANDY” – which was a fun and pretty hilarious unexpected interlude. The Stranglers love a laugh, which I love. When proposing “It’s time for a fluffy pop song, now, is that okay?” and the crowd replying with erratic “no”s and booing, Warne simply laughs, “Oh you’re booing me now? Well I’ve got the microphone so fuck off.” That aura of experience and not giving a fuck is so apparent but not it’s an arrogant fashion, The Stranglers simply know they’re an incredible band, might as well be confident about it.
Tonight’s set is beautifully varied, a mix of obvious newer songs with a careful selection from some of their finest albums. ‘North Winds Blowing’ into ‘I Feel Like A Wog’ to ‘Skin Deep’ – it’s pretty mind blowing hearing so many great tracks in a row. Two hours of it pretty much melted my brain, but in a good way. Proper punk ‘Dead Ringer’ with its legendary bass line into happy singalong ‘Duchess’ – The Stranglers really can’t do any wrong. To show that this is true, the band play two encores. Two! I don’t think I’ve seen any band do two encores, except maybe Prince. An odd mix of low frequency bass that shook the floor and definitely removed some frequencies from my hearing suddenly into ’Peaches’ and ‘Walk On By’ doesn’t put off the crowd still. Middle aged men jumping and pogoing like it’s the old days – even some crowdsurfing goes on. It’s a set I’ll probably never forget and one I definitely want to see again.