It’s a humid Saturday night in Fremantle and Metros is suitably packed for the visit of UK legends The Stranglers, a band I’ve always rather pleasingly found hard to define. If you judge a band by its audience though you’d be equally hard to define them as tonight’s crowd, though they may average in the upper 40’s are dotted with plenty of young kids. It’s great to see, and also nice to see so many black jeans in one place at the same time.
Labelled over the years as Punk, New Wave, Pub Rock and in the 80’s even Pop, The Stranglers of late are a far rockier affair as the newer material from the last ten years, tonight represented mainly by tracks from 2013’s critically acclaimed ‘Norfolk Coast’ and 2012’s ‘Giants’ albums attests.
It’s a packed house as we said by the time the band takes the stage after a taped intro of ‘Waltzinblack’. Not visiting the West on their last tour with Blondie in 2012 means we’ve got some making up to do and early on guitarist Baz Warne reminds us that there’s time to partake in a few beers (I’m not quoting exactly you understand), this being a long-weekend and all. Quite hilariously there is an immediate and noticeable exodus to the bar!
Of course it’s the seventies songs that we’ve primarily come for, and they lay heavily in a set that keeps everyone on their toes, and changes the mood from dancing to singalong to pogoing at the drop of a hat. It’s a difficult trick for a band of ‘a certain age’ to pull off – balancing a set to please those just there to relive memories and those that care that a band like The Stranglers is still making some damn fine music.
It may be 25 years now since original vocalist Hugh Cornwall left the band but in the live arena, to be honest, no one even notices these days, this tour sadly it’s the absence due to ill health of drummer Jet Black that draws most attention, though his stool-warmer (surely that’s the correct term?) Jim MacAulay does an amiable job at the back. Tonight we got almost two hours of some of the best music I’ve heard for a long time and played with sure precision, the mix or perspiration, reverence, precision and passion made it a truly memorable gig.
The Stranglers bring it all to the stage and it’s amazing to hear the punk and pub rock roots seamlessly melt into the quirky experimentation that was always a trademark of the band.
The hits are flawless tonight amid the singles and album tracks of the 70’s (a good two thirds of the set) with only two songs from their 80’s catalogue all night: ‘Golden Brown’ from ‘La Folie’ and ‘Always the Sun’ from 1986’s rather underrated ‘Dreamtime’ album.
What that means is that there’s more time to move and shout, to those ‘Greatest hits’ which reach back right to the very first album 1977’s Rattus Norvegicus for ‘Peaches’; ‘Grip’ and ‘Hanging Around’: songs that this week celebrated their 39th year!
In fact there’s plenty from those first Seventies releases with ‘I Feel like a Wog’ and ‘No More Heroes’ from their second album also released in 1977: and the set kicking off with an excellent rendition of ‘Toiler on the Sea’, along with ‘Tank’; ‘Nice and Sleazy’; ‘Curfew’ and even the cover ‘Walk on by’ from the time of 1978’s Black and White album.
Highlights for us though were a couple of tracks from 1979’s the Raven, the underrated ‘Nuclear Device’ and the evergreen ‘Duchess’ as well as those early singles ‘Straighten out’; ‘5 minutes’ and ‘Go Buddy Go’. It’s a sweet set with something for everyone.
The Stranglers have an energy that belies their years and it’s not often we get treated to a set of such length by a band of this caliber, but Fremantle went out singing tonight after a final blast of ‘No More Heroes’ which just about sobered everyone up for the ride home. Let’s hope we don’t miss out next time these guys visit- it has to be hard to beat for the gig of the year!