Review by Mazzy Snape
The O2 Academy in Birmingham is packed out on a Saturday night for The Stranglers and rightly so, this band have always stood head and shoulders above their punk peers, with a strong back catalogue that’s really stood the test of time.
Many fans were pleasantly surprised to see stalwarts of the punk scene, The Rezillos supporting. It has been 37 years since their debut Can’t Stand the Rezillos, and the Glasgow punk rockers are finally back with a follow-up album Zero. Considering the long gap, you’d think they’d be a little rusty but the new material is strong and they take to the stage with wry smiles all round. It’s easy to consider The Rezillos as the British version of The Cramps, and visually the comparison is undeniable with leopard print flashes and sleaze oozing from every orifice, but there is more to this band than meets the eye. Front woman Fay Fife and partner-in-crime Eugene certainly possess the same kind of onstage chemistry as Lux & Ivy, and they hold their tongues firmly in-cheek from start to finish. The energy from each band member makes for a frenetic performance.
Like some kind of B-movie pin-up Fay prowls across the stage, the lads stride about grinning menacingly and egg on the crowd. The new songs are well-received but it’s the old classics that really get things going. ‘Somebody’s Going To Get Their Head Kicked In Tonight’ puts a smile on everyone’s face and has the first few rows pogoing like crazy. Fay’s voice is as good as ever on ‘Top Of The Pops’ and everyone seems to be singing along. They played a fantastic set of old and new tracks that really warmed up the crowd, a tough act to follow, but that’s no bother for the headliners tonight.
Tension is rising as the lights come on and onlookers eagerly await the main attraction. The house starts buzzing with anticipation as the sinister ‘Waltz in Black’ plays. The band take the stage and the place erupts. The impressive crowd scream in delight as frontmen Baz Warne and Jean-Jaques Burnel stride towards the front and they lap up every single move they make. Dave Greenfield, though tucked away at side of stage makes no less an impression, it’s his almost proggy keyboard arrangements that really put The Stranglers apart from other bands from the 70’s punk scene that they emerged from.
They open with some 70s classics that keep the old fans happy, songs like ‘The Raven’ and ‘Get A Grip On Yourself’, Baz looks intimidating whilst belting out ‘Straighten Out’. Impressively more recent songs such as ‘I’ve Been Wild’ and ‘Freedom Is Insane’ get an equally warm reception. The Stranglers back catalogue is SO impressive and popular that everyone seems to know every song, either singing or pogoing along from the first song to the last.
Up until now beloved original drummer Jet Black has been notably absent but as he joins the stage for ‘Baroque Bordello’ the crowd start chanting his name. He remains for 80s hits the unmistakable ‘Golden Brown’, and the synth pop perfection that is ‘Always The Sun’. The crowd continue to chant his name sometime after his departure. Unfortunately these days ill health prevents Jet from playing a full set and the crowd’s warm appreciation of his appearance, however brief, is clear.
The Stranglers manage to maintain the same vigour and passionate delivery throughout their mammoth two and a half hour set. Fans are kept happy with a nice mix of big hits and lesser known tracks. Although the crowd are boisterous, it’s a happy gang and there’s no trouble or animosity.
They end on ‘Down In The Sewer’ and the whole venue is alive with screeching, jumping and singing as the band finish. The set was so long and fulfilling that the audience would more than likely have been happy without an encore, but of course the fans chanting and bellowing is answered with a swift return to stage and they treat them to their famous cover versions of Dionne Warwick’s ‘Walk On By’ and The Kinks’ ‘All Of The Day and All Of The Night’.
Baz takes great pleasure in stretching the wait out for the final song of the encore, he stands centre stage, hand aloft, grinning knowingly at the crowd, everyone knows what’s coming next and the excitement is palpable. He lunges forward and everyone absolutely loses it to Dave’s melodic keys on the savage sneering classic ‘No More Heroes’.
All in all a ferocious, energetic and satisfying performance from one of the UK’s best bands.