Gig review: THE STRANGLERS – The Roundhouse, London, 6 March 2015

The Membranes opened up with a 20 minute set of good humoured, post-punk anarchy. John Robb on bass and lead vocals is a great front man with plenty to say. ‘Spike Milligan’s Tape Recorder’, a minor hit from the mid 80’s, was the only track I knew and it went down well with the crowd.

Not as well, however, as the upending of a security guard after he went into the pit to look after Robb. The latter had already jumped down from the stage to belt out one of the tracks. I suspect he needed no help whatsoever!

The Roundhouse was filling up nicely by the time Scottish punk troupe The Rezillos hit the stage and churned out half an hour of bonkers glam and rock ‘n’ roll influenced new wave. Long-time collaborators Fay Fife and Eugene Reynolds shared vocal duties amid zany costume and headware changes from guitarist Angel Paterson.

The material is more or less evenly split between new material and their debut album ‘Can’t Stand The Rezillos’ in 1978, such as ‘Flying Saucer Attack’ and the cracking ‘Top of the Pops’.

It sounded more direct and stripped down than the more pop-influenced tracks which come from the recently released album ‘Zero’ like ‘Groovy Room’ and ‘Sorry For Tomorrow’. Everything was belted out with gusto and verve though. And staggering to think that 37 years separates the band’s only two studio albums.

I’m late coming to The Stranglers (almost as late as posting this review), having never seen them live before.  This gig was well worth the wait.

From the moment ‘Waltzinblack’ announced their arrival via the backing tapes, the band never missed a beat in an unrelenting sweep of sound that dipped into all the obvious nooks and less-well trodden crannies of their diverse career.

The early material was heavily represented, as you would wish. In particular, the excellent ‘The Raven’ album was thoroughly plundered, including the brooding ‘Longships’ providing a slab-sided opening to the gig, followed smartly by the album’s excellent, dark title track. ‘Baroque Bordello, ‘Duchess’ and ‘Ice’ follow later in the set.

It remains a quirky historical curiosity that the Stranglers were viewed as so integral to the early punk movement. Their musical virtuosity (and age) must have marked them apart. Within the first half dozen tracks here the band had explored (at the very least) art rock, psychedelia, progressive and gothic.

Punk was probably no more than a badge of convenience that matched the band’s aggressive, no-nonsense and vaguely yobbish attitude back in those heady days.

Now, the Stranglers are pulling off that very special trick of growing old credibly. JJ Burnel has never looked cooler than now. His silver mop-top merely adds a touch of class to the swagger, the stare and the voice.

So many Stranglers tracks are bass driven beasts. ‘Peaches’ sounded massive tonight, with a groove that hit the pit of your stomach. It felt Burnel was calling all the shots on (Get A) Grip (On Yourself) too.

Where the band allowed themselves to stretch out, the interplay between melodic bass and Dave Greenfield’s organ and synths was superb. Take the seven minute main-set closer, ‘Down In The Sewer’.

And there was room for the subtle, sophisticated pop moments to rise to prominence: a hypnotic, almost tender ‘Golden Brown’ and a gorgeous ‘Always The Sun’.

After this track, Jim Macauley, who had been pummelling the tubs to great effect, temporarily moved aside to make way for the indestructible Jet Black , received by the Roundhouse crowd with fervent approval. Of the three or four numbers he plays, ‘Genetix’ stood out: a long set piece of complex passages, played with less fury and a more rumbling tenor than Macauley.

Baz Warne comes into his own on the newer material. The melancholic, ‘Relentless’ shows off his vocals to great effect.  Warne’s guitar was sharp and precise throughout, if playing understudy the keyboard swell on occasions.

As the set winds up to its climax, we are back to thumping basslines and keyboard swirls  that power the snarling ‘Hanging Around’ for the first encore and delirious scenes down the front for showstopper, what else, ‘No More Heroes’.

A great show by a sure-footed band, confident with their place in the world, which is delivering a thrilling, diverse and truly unique soundscape. There is no-one else out there doing this. Long may it continue.

Review by Dave Atkinson

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