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Wednesday, 20 April 2016 |
Just like tonight at the little old Corner Hotel, with every sold out gig successfully performed, The Stranglers, (est, 1974) now in their 42nd year, continue to defy the odds and dumbfound their critics.
Against all odds, these prolific and proficient quasi-prog-punk pilgrims from Guilford have triumphed over multiple lineup changes, public scandals, wavering fortunes, and health issues, and yet still manage to maintain artistic integrity and a dedicated fanbase.
Cited as one of the longest-surviving and most “continuously successful” bands to have originated in the UK punk scene, they've resolutely continued on, despite many writing them off as a spent force after lead singer, guitarist and songwriter Hugh Cornwell departed in 1990.
The band was built from the ground up, member by precious member, by Jet Black, a successful businessman and part time session drummer who, although already in his mid thirties, never gave up on his real dream – believing a more fulfilling musical future lay out there somewhere.
Taking his time over a few years to find just the perfect partners in crime, history was to prove his choices prudent ones. The original lineup lasted 17 years and, in that time alone, produced 29 singles that went Top 50, 9 of which made Top 10.
Along the way the band’s artistically challenging output garnered them much goodwill and built the band one of Britain’s most loyal followings – even now, regularly a Stranglers Convention is held somewhere in the UK. Coaches are booked and 1000’s of the faithful and the band themselves travel in to be part of the weekend’s festivities.
Fresh off the back of a tour commemorating the 38th anniversary of their third album ‘Black & White’ in Europe and the UK, the guys are back here in Melbourne to play a sold out show at the intimate Corner Hotel.
Uncharacteristically for the Corner, tonight there’s a very heavy duty barrier installed a metre away from the stage – which has more tall punters crushed up against it than I can recall seeing for a long while.
As the distinctively unnerving ‘Waltzinblack’ fades from the overhead monitors the band stride on stage to resounding cheers. The first thing I notice is that Jet is not playing on this tour. Instead, Jim MacAulay takes his spot behind 'The Raven’ emblazoned Bass Drum.
It’s clear from the outset that the band mean business kicking off with the relentless ‘Toiler On The Sea’. The sound is great tonight, and JJ Burnell (bass) and Baz Warne (Lead vocals, guitar) strut back and forth menacingly. They each kick at the air aggressively, metaphorically giving the track good boot up the arse. It's a ripper renditionand then as it ends, without even drawing breath it’s immediately into ‘Straighten Out’.
Baz plays his way majestically through 'Straighten' despited ear monitor problems... JJ spots the problem and sequesters the mixing desk guy to ‘sort it’ just as the rest of the band rip into ‘(Get A) Grip (On Yourself)’. He’s back at his post within moments, smiling, so it seems we are all systems go. As ‘Grip’ finishes, he sees it out with a thumping percussive wallop to the body of his bass....Whomp! (Huge cheers again). We've had three classics in the space of 9 minutes, all meticulously executed. It’s clear the guys are in fine fettle and we’re in for a stellar night!
SOURCE: Fan footage via YouTube of "Toiler/Straighten/Grip/Wild/Curfew".
Seeing such a legendary band play in such a tiny venue is a rarity not lost on Baz...
“Well, bless my fucken soul, we’re in Melbourne. I must say it’s been a long while since we’ve played a place as small as this but I have to say, it’s fucken fantastic! There’s been lots of famous bands who have played here like… (plays a note perfect intro to AC/DC’s ‘Back In Black’ ”) (applause and some heckling) I can fucken’ do anything mate… I can do anything!”
‘I’ve Been Wild’ from Norfolk Coast is up next and then a sterling rendition of ‘Curfew’. Dave Greenfield’s keyboard gymnastics juxtapose beautifully against Baz’s angular chord play. Throughout the song JJ is bent low over the barracuda ripping out his bass runs, but his eyes are locked on Baz for cues. He sports a huge grin and the chemistry between these two is abundantly clear. They're like two schoolboys revelling in the opportunity to play these tunes live to an appreciative audience.– and tonight they've found one at The Corner.
The distinctive bass and snare of ‘Nice 'n' Sleazy’ kicks in and both JJ and Baz strike poses at the stage lip for those in the front rows quick enough to snap a pic.
They back that up with three major hits in the form of 'Golden Brown' / 'Always The Sun' / 'Hanging Around'. It’s truly a testimony to the depth of the material that these songs can be played so early in the set.
Baz gets a rest on vocal duties as JJ smoothly croons the mellow intro to ‘Freedom Is Insane. To my ears it harks back sonically to the material they were doing around the time of ‘La Folie’ – all soft and breathless –that is, until the chorus kicks in and then it morphs into a very driving, unrepentant rhythm and earnest vocal.
The Stranglers ode to the land down under, 'Nuclear Device' kicks serious butt live and to their credit the first few rows eagerly join in on the “Bruce/Sheila” refrain. This bemuses keyboardist extraordinaire Dave Greenfield, as he nonchalantly swigs his bevy during a one-handed keyboard solo.
Norfolk Coast’s title track is up next and JJ playfully dances on the stage lip. Jim is pounding his kit mercilessly at this stage and wrong-seats a cymbal that now sits perpendicular to the others. Without missing a beat he signals with one raised drumstick, and this roadie is over in a flash putting things to rights.
The pounding intro to '77’s ‘I Feel Like A Wog’ kicks in. Baz mimics every nuance of Hugh Cornwell's sneered delivery and with closed eyes, we could almost be listening to the 'Live X-Cert’ version from back in the day.
SOURCE: Fan footage via YouTube
‘Skin Deep’ follows: Out of the blue, just as the drums crescendo us into the first verse, JJ’s left leg shoots out in a high judo kick, completely taking out his mike stand. The poor old roadie, who I suspect has probably seen it all before, doesn’t even blink an eyelid. As he reconstructs the mike stand JJ playfully blows on the back of his head.
Next up is ‘Peaches’. During the bridge Baz sings: “I could think of a lot worse places to be, like down in the streets, or down in the sewer...” he adds “or watching some old cunt reading off a teleprompter at a Black Sabbath gig”.
At song’s end he engages with the crowd and asks if anyone actually went to last night’s Black Sabbath Gig. “What? You sad bastards!… I know they’re old, but they’re fucken shameful!”
One brave soul, who actually wore a Sabbath t-shirt to the gig tonight gets singled out and Baz does a hilarious impersonation of Ozzy Osbourne singing a woeful rendition of ‘Paranoid’, staggering back and forth between the mic and an imaginary teleprompter. Everyone is in fits.
Baz's banter keeps the mood light and while they have us in the palm of their hands, they seize the opportunity to serve up two lesser known cuts from 'Suite XVI’: ‘Time Was Once On My Side’ and ‘Lost Control’. He whips his guitar around like a rampant chainsaw – as if about to tear all of us a new one. More high kicks. The energy levels tonight cream all over the previous lineups I've seen.
Before long we hear the familiar intro of ‘Duchess’ (from ‘The Raven’) and once again Dave harmonises on backing vocals. I'm reminded again that the harmonies are just another defining factor that makes this band so special. The crowd joyously join in on “And the Rodneys are queuing up…" refrain. Baz, JJ and Dave all exchange happy glances. It’s a tiny venue but it’s going off.
The band launch into the final track of the set, ‘Tank’, one of my all-time faves. It’s machine-gun-esque drum intro sets the tone and we career headlong in our imaginary tanks, ‘maiming’ and ‘blowing men’s knobs off at the count of three’! The band then walk off stage and they look knackered.
SOURCE: Fan footage from The Corner of "Tank".
When you consider the performance we just witnessed, it's no real surprise. Happily they’re back within a few minutes to perform an extended version of ‘Walk On By’ and ‘All Day and All Of The Night’.
One more walk off and then it’s back for the final song of the night. JJ stands centre stage right up on the lip once again and does his distinctive spiderish fret-run down the barracuda signalling it’s time for the classic ‘No More Heroes’. Tonight's crowd are all Strangler's stalwarts and know all the words, so delight in singing along at the tops of their voices. As it finishes it's clear there is no more left in the tank. They've given absolutely everything...
The Stranglers have delivered an absolute blinder at the Corner tonight – a notable gig because it was played with as much passion and energy as I can EVER remember seeing them commit to a performance.
My guest, who was seeing them for the very first time was gobsmacked at how many tracks she actually knew, and of the other unfamiliar tracks, how many she enjoyed. She went straight out the next day and bought the Greatest Hits CD, which apparently her young son is now thrashing. I’d say ‘job well done’ boys. 'Nice and Sleazy does it... does it every time.’
SOURCE: Fan footage from Christchurch 5 days earlier of "No More Heroes".
The Stranglers set list:
Toiler On The Sea
(Get A) Grip (On Yourself)
I've Been Wild
Nice 'n' Sleazy
Always The Sun
Freedom Is Insane
Nuclear Device (The Wizard of Aus)
I Feel Like A Wog
Time Was Once On My Side
Walk On By (Dionne Warwick cover)
All Day and All of the Night (The Kinks cover)
No More Heroes
Our photo gallery of THE STRANGLERS can be viewed here:
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