The Stranglers have been described as being one of the first punk bands but they are much more than that narrow, simplistic tag implies as proven tonight during their performance at The Gov. The rapid evolution of their material during the years that singer and guitarist Hugh Cornwell fronted the band now seems quite dramatic in retrospect and although this development has slowed somewhat in the twenty years that followed his departure in 1990 (their last album was released in 2012), it is Hugh’s presence that continues to linger especially given the well-received performances of songs tonight from during his tenure, their commercially successful peak.
Those songs from a period now more than thirty years on are defining and reinforce the longevity of this band now on their third vocalist and guitarist Baz Warne, co-lead along with the perennial J J Burnel on bass and Dave Greenfield on keys. Founder Jet Black is reportedly still a member, he just doesn’t tour and his proxy is touring drummer Jim Macauley.
An intro tape of the carnivalesque sounding Waltzinblack appropriately heralds the arrival on stage of the men in black (they are in fact dressed in black) and the actual set commences with Duchess. Peppered amongst songs predominantly from the aforementioned era there are only a handful from the last three albums and their years with singer Paul Roberts are almost overlooked. This opening salvo is enjoyable in and of itself but the real show begins following a pause during which JJ crosses the stage to towel the sweat from Baz’s head (and not for the only time tonight) before they dive into Nice ‘n’ Sleazy and with the addition of faux stage choreography employed therein the performance really comes to life.
The obscure cover of a song by the Disciples of Spess (never heard of them), This Song Will Get Me Over You, tonight replaces Raven played during previous concerts at this point. This sequence of songs also includes a version of 5 Minutes that starts with a glacial Kraftwerkian intro and the first of JJ’s gruff blues lead vocals before they go almost spy themed in Unbroken. There is another pause due to technical issues (Baz had previously mentioned a problem with international touring was the reliance on hiring local equipment that may be substandard, although he had used another word) while a keyboard is exchanged.
JJ decides to go shirtless and this is pointed out by Baz in case it hadn’t been noticed and later when he puts it back on Baz asks him if it has dried out. FM radio classics Golden Brown, Always the Sun (Dave employs a particular yawned and clipped “aahh” backing vocal) and Skin Deep are performed before we are treated to Nuclear Device (The Wizard of Aus) which apparently is played generously on Australian tours in contrast to elsewhere. Peaches is a stand out as always and was previously briefly excerpted tonight during the Gooch Palms support set. Sounding better than the recorded version a country and western tinged 15 Steps is followed by their transformed cover of Walk On By which seems purpose built for Dave Greenfield to perform an extended solo. Although chronologically out of place, Relentless fits well in the closing salvo of early material that includes Something Better Change, Hanging Around and Tank before they leave the stage prior to an encore.
For the encore Baz informs us that the next song will be the first that JJ wrote at fifteen years old (“25 years ago”, he adds) and this is the pub rock Go Buddy Go and the set then ends with No More Heroes, a song not so overtly meta as This Song Will Get Me Over You but one that they wrote themselves, making it all the more pertinent and while it is played, Hugh Cornwell once more comes to mind (“Whatever happened to…?”). I was going to end here but I want to add the clarifying disclaimer that Hugh is going well and in fact played at the Gov mid last year.
Live Review by Jason Leigh