With a career spanning four decades and 17 albums, The Stranglers, punk rock’s great survivors, show no sign of letting up any time soon. Rarely taking a break from touring The Stranglers have been a regular feature at Southampton’s Guildhall in recent years. Despite it being a Monday night the place was packed and the atmosphere was electric.
Even the venue’s notoriously shit acoustics couldn’t dampen the mood. The crowd was full of diehard punks still raging into their serious years, mixed with plenty of younger fans as well. It’s heart-warming to see that a band which has evolved its sound so much over the years is still able to make its mark with younger generations.
The misanthropy and raw aggression of the Guildford born band’s earlier output contrasted with the pop delicacies of La Folie, which made for an intriguing set that few other bands are able to match.
This being “The Classics Collection” all the biggest hits were shown their due respect; Always the Sun, Down in the Sewer, Hanging Around and Peaches all definite highpoints in the set, drawing massive reactions from the faithful.
The Stranglers are heavy live, make no mistake, but their ability to vary their sound is remarkable – with high tempo riots like Something Better Change and 5 Minutes sitting comfortably alongside the comparatively calm Freedom Is Insane, a track that starts with recordings of gentle waves breaking for fucks sake.
Without a doubt The Stranglers biggest hits came in during the seventies and eighties, but it wasn’t all old hat with 15 Steps from 2012’s Giants marking another standout moment in the show; album 17 and the wit is still razor sharp. Guitarist Baz Warne and bassist Jean-Jacques Burnel oozed that essential punk attitude, stalking around the stage like a pair of hyenas during Nice ‘n’ Sleazy, a song so dirty it makes Sepp Blatter look clean.
They stared down the crowd while front-man Dave Greenfield, pint in one hand, flawlessly executed the keyboard solo on perfect set closer No More Heroes, a relentless end to a relentless night.
The virtuosity of the band was on display for all to see, including the talent of drummer Jim MacAulay who has now well and truly established himself as a core member. Warne and Greenfield are masters of their craft. The band’s cover of Dianne Warwick’s Walk on By developed into 5 minutes of borderline prog, duelling solos. Hardly very punk but the musicianship of the band and the intellectual bent of their writing has always set them apart from many of their peers. It’s what has allowed them to change up their sound and surprise us time and again over the years.
Perhaps it’s looking through rose tinted glasses but the sort of satirically biting song writing The Stranglers create is hard to come by these days. The band have come in for criticism over the years for the perceived innuendo in their lyrics but those who level such accusations are oblivious to the satire and innuendo in the music, how it mocked the culture of its time. It’s just as relevant and necessary today. We need art with real edge and grit, all the better if it offends. I know where I’d rather be, down in the sewers.
Words by Daniel Humphrey