Live Music + Gig Reviews

The Stranglers @ Shepherd’s Bush Empire, London

10 December 2004

The Stranglers

The Stranglers

I came late to The Stranglers – both to the music, having got to love them through a (shock, horror) “best of” album, and to the gig (whoever heard of a rock band – let alone an erstwhile punk rock band – being on stage at the allotted hour?).

So front man Paul Roberts was already glistening with sweat underneath his open black shirt as he writhed and contorted a very trim body to the anthemic strains of Always The Sun, and this 25th Anniversary gig was well under way.

25th Anniversary? Surely they formed in 1974… Of course in the good old days it would have been Hugh Cornwell up front, the man who perhaps more than anyone, with the possible exception of keyboards player Dave Greenfield, created the unmistakable sound of early Stranglers. But he jumped ship in 1990, and while Roberts lacks that gravelly voice he proved to be quite the showman.

Dave Greenfield is still in place behind a rank of keyboards, as is Jean Jacques Burnel on bass and Jet Black on drums, and Baz Warne on guitar cuts a suitably menacing figure with his shaved head and beefy frame. And there’s no doubt they can all play some mean, exciting rock.

There was a splendid battle of the guitars in Toiler On The Sea, Burnel and Warne facing each other centre stage, and plenty of other oldies rapturously received by a seething, heaving mosh pit. Who Wants The World, Get A Grip, Something Better Change, Duchess and of course Golden Brown… all good stuff, though from my less-than-perfect position the sound was far too guitar-heavy.

However raw early Stranglers could be, there was always a surprising musicality behind it, usually the result of Greenfield’s inspired keyboards. When you can’t hear them, the sound is much less interesting. This was, alas, the case for Walk On By, surely a contender for the best cover ever, but I’m still glad I heard it live. There were newer songs too, from the recent (and pretty good) album Norfolk Coast – Lost Control, Mine All Mine, I’ve Been Wild.

Certainly The Stranglers provide value for money – with assorted encores, over an hour and a half of high-octane performance, culminating in a touching few words by Burnel and a fabulous rendition of No More Heroes.

A bloke near me was disappointed: he reckoned the band was “a travesty” of what they had been in the ’70s and ’80s. I can’t judge, not having seen them live before. They were exciting, but certainly much safer than in those early days, if the reports are anything to go by. I missed the musical subtlety present in even the harshest recordings, but that’s live performance for you. At any rate it was a good night out.

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The Stranglers @ Shepherd’s Bush Empire, London