The Stranglers & The Ruts – Auckland Town Hall February 2, 2018

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Michael Flynn Photography


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.

Kate Powell

Click on any image to view a photo gallery of The Stranglers and The Ruts by Michael Flynn:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tormented by at her lack of musical ability, Kate decided to vent her frustrations by becoming a critic, reviewing her first show, The Rolling Stones’ Bigger Bang tour at 16. Since then, her scribblings have been in the Waikato Times, Rip It Up, Audioculture, Mossgreen-Webb and the 13th Floor.
She has also curated three independent art exhibitions in as many years and conceptualised promotional material for the Hamilton Fringe Festival. Kate is currently based in Auckland and works in Public Relations and Communications.
Like every reviewer ever, Kate insists that (as long as it errs on the side of alternative) she has an eclectic music taste and her opinions don’t matter. But she’ll let you be the judge.

4 COMMENTS

  1. Hi Kate, as an old punk living in London in 1977, here are a couple of pointers for you….
    Really hard to say that The Stranglers were influenced by the Doors/VU /Who… Cornwall himself only cites Cream and Hendrix as influences; Jet Black was a jazz drummer and JJ was classically trained as a musician. Dave Greenfield said how much he liked Pink Floyd and was viciously slated for that by punks in general at the time. With all of that, it is hard to assert that The Stranglers were a punk band…. actually, really, they weren’t ! The fact is they had formed over two years before punk even started in the UK and had already been touring on the pub scene by the time punk got going in 1976. They were also a lot older than most punks, Cornwall being 28 and Black 39 in 1977. Arguably, they jumped on the punk wave and use that to launch themselves but they never really sat comfortably in the genre of punk. Because basically, they weren’t punks!

    Now, having said that, that is not to say that they were not embraced by punks, myself being one of them but not because their lyrics are ‘bleeding with misanthropy typical of punk’. The lyrics of punk songs in general were not usually misanthropic. Actually, what we liked about their songs was the crude vulgarity of it all, the over-the-top misogyny of some of the lyrics, strippers dancing on stage, using the term ‘wog’ at a time of heightened racial tensions in the UK and even managing to get the word ‘clitoris’ into a song. It was not the music that was punk, it was the lyrics, the shock tactics attitude, the brooding threat and menace and the fck-you attitude to lip-syncing on Top of the Pops.

    Rattus Norvegicus is without doubt one of the best albums to have been released in 1977 and ‘Peaches’ is without question the definitive ’45 of the summer of 1977, being played on the radio playlists the entire summer (albeit with the word clitoris being changed to bikini so it would gain tea-time airplay on the Capital Radio countdown at 5.00 in the afternoon..) So, actually, they did not really deliver ‘The Classics’ at the Town Hall. Not only did they not play ‘Peaches’, they also omitted ‘Ugly’ and ‘Down in the Sewer’ from the Rattus album and also ‘Bitching’ and ‘Bring on the Nubiles’ from the NMH album, all of which would be candidates for inclusion in a ‘classics collection’. And the audience knew this. There was a palpable disappointment when they left the stage after only 90 mins without playing any of these songs. Of course everyone noticed they didn’t play ‘Peaches’ ! I was right down the front and there was a definite anticipation that they just had to come back on for a second encore…. and it was only when the house lights came back up that we realised that ‘Peaches’ was just not going to happen. Of course, they could have played for longer – older men recently did 3hr sets at Spark Arena and Mt Smart!; But its hard to see why they would to choose to play a cover song (Burt Bacharach’s ‘Walk on By’) over and above ‘Peaches’. If you want to talk classic Stranglers songs, none gets more ‘classic’ than that.

  2. Wish I could’ve been there but saw them two years ago at the Powerstation, and The Ruts DC at the Kings Arms; both great shows. I still can’t quite accept no Hugh Cornwell (the original guitarist and singer) but heh, having JJ and Dave Greenfield still going strong is great.

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