The Stranglers occupy a curious place within the history of music. As self-imposed exiles of the 1970s punk rock scene, they were influenced by the likes of The Doors, Velvet Underground and The Who.
Punk as a genre was meant to blast the old guard into oblivion through a whirlwind of rebellion, anger and energy. While The Stranglers became notorious for their acerbic nature and lyrics bleeding with misanthropy typical of punk, the band was arguably more musically aware, capable and versatile than their compatriots. This has undoubtedly helped their longevity, which has seen them produce 17 top 40 albums.
This calibre of output alone put The Stranglers in good stead to craft a setlist of classic post-punk songs that they delivered to an enraptured crowd at the Auckland Town Hall last night. It’s been forty years since the release of their first two albums Rattus Novegicius and No More Heroes, but you’d never have known it. The four-piece, who have been performing in one way or another for more than forty years, still deliver their set with ferocious energy and conviction, while their weird blend of influences wouldn’t be out of place on the radio today.
The Stranglers have an instantly recognisble and idiosyncratic sound built around the most unlikely of punk instruments- Dave Greenfields swirling flourishing keyboards and Jean-Jacques Burnel’s forceful, pumping bass. The brilliance of The Stranglers is how they twist the melodies, largely thanks to Baz Warne giving the likes of Nice ‘n’ Sleazy and Get A Grip (On Yourself) the requisite bite, melancholy or beautiful weirdness as the song required it.
The Stranglers have always used juxaposition well and this translated on stage. They managed to walk the fine line between being loud and brash yet clean and precise when it counted. Age has worked to Warne’s advantage, only adding to his gravelly punk growl. Make no mistake, their urgent, inventive energy and textured, perfumed melancholy was on full display last night. Combined with the intelligence and playfulness of their lyrics, we were bearing witness to a band that has an originality that has always made them impossible to place.
They promised The Classics and that’s exactly what they delivered. From stepping on stage to the creepy strains of Waltzinblack, to rocketing through Go Buddy Go and No More Heroes, they kept the majority of their set rooted in the 70s and 80s however, it merged well with their later work, especially 15 Steps, a hypnotic, churning rush of a song that captures what The Stranglers do so well as a band.
My one gripe is that they didn’t play Peaches, a personal favourite. And when that’s your one gripe about a show you know you’ve had a great time. The crowd was too busy pogo-ing, downing beers and reliving their youth to probably notice such a minor thing, given that they were in the presence of one of punk’s true originals.
Click on any image to view a photo gallery of The Stranglers and The Ruts by Michael Flynn: