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The Stranglers need no introductions as they have been hanging around since the mid 70's, and they are currently promoting the release of their 17th studio album ‘Giants’. Tonight is the 5th night of their British tour, which started in Leeds before heading up to Scotland, finally arriving at the Liverpool Academy.
It’s 7.30 and venue is about a quarter full for the first act of the night, Mike Marlin and his four piece band. The people who have arrived early are treated to an excellent set of crafted songs from the highly regarded Marlin, with his deep, rich vocals, full of melody and sentiment and reminiscent of early Bowie and Nick Lowe. I will be checking him out very soon after this showing.

Next up is Shane McGowan’s old cohorts, The Popes. A good time band with powerful Celtic vibes that seems to bring the Irish out in all of us, even if there was none there in the first place. Good lead vocals and a truly gifted fiddle player, and a guitarist, and rhythm section , as tight as a leprechaun’s stockings. What more could you ask for just a week before St Patrick's day?

It's 9.20 and the house lights dim as ‘The Waltz In Black’ dances out of the speakers, four figures are beamed down from a distant, dark planet, the original men in black, The Stranglers. Recently experiencing something of a  revival in popularity, possibly due to the strength of their last 3 albums, coupled with new man, Baz Warne’s strong presence, both musically and physically. The venue is now packed and the familiar growl of Jean Jaques Burnel’s bass guitar  signals the start of the show, kicking off with ‘Burning up time’ and straight into ‘Sometimes’, complete with the swirling arpeggiated keyboards, pumping bass and cutting guitar. ‘Rise Of The Robots’ and ‘Hanging Around’,  35 years old and still sounding as fresh as a black dahlia.

The band always utilized strong musical and vocal arrangements, that made their more menacing songs more accessible, and their more commercial songs more saleable, and resulted in a string of top 50 hits, over 30 in all, never conforming to the fads and fashions that strangled the potential of many other bands of that era. ‘Unbroken‘ from the Suite XVI album with its killer line “Ooh baby, slap my thigh, I’ll wear these suspenders if it gets you high” and the first song from the new album ‘Time Was Once On My Side’. From the rock steady 3/4 beat of Jet Black, the 73 year old drummer, who’s health has been an issue over these last couple of years but shows little evidence here, to Dave Greenfield’s delicate harpsichord riff, it could only signal the start of the bona fide classic that is, ‘Golden Brown’. Followed by the haunting ‘Strange Little Girl’ and their impressive cover of ‘Walk On By’, after which Baz explains that the last time he was in Liverpool was “on the piss in the Crocodile!, which is a Karaoke bar". Such light hearted banter at a Stranglers gig used to be as rare as a pink T shirt at one, but not anymore. The title track of the new album finishes as the most recognisable bass line from the punk era begins, ‘Peaches’, once an anthem for misogyny, now delivered much more tongue in (bum) cheek, (sorry, couldn’t resist) possibly, how it was always intended to be.

Another newy, ‘Mercury Rising’, ‘VHF’, and surprisingly the only track from the magnificent ‘Norfolk coast’ album, ‘Lost Control’, followed by ‘Nice And Sleazy’ B side, ‘Shut Up’. The opening bass riff of ‘No More Heroes’ sends the predominantly male crowd, into a well deserved frenzy and, unfortunately, a spate of beer throwing that you knew would end in tears. Towards the end of the number, JJ Burnel beckoned the main culprit forward, before taking off his bass and giving the repentant sinner a few, well deserved playful slaps around the head, informing him that “if you were half a man I’d punch your lights out”. Intimidating, middle aged knob heads who can no longer drink responsibly, and spoil it for the rest of us, I hope their kids, and indeed their grandkids are very proud! Anyway the man was ejected, hands in prayer, pleading to be let back in. Obviously as hard as the plastic glass he was drinking from! 

‘Relentless’ followed finishing the night on a high with ‘Something Better Change’. With a four song encore of ‘Time To Die’, ‘Duchess’ and Kinks classic ‘All Of The Day And All Of The Night’, they finally bombarded us with ‘Tank’. A truly magnificent performance by the band who seem to have got better with age. And for those who are still stuck in the Cornwell years, as good as they were, check out the new kid on the block, you won’t be disappointed. And so, in the blackness of a Stranglers gig, the small flame that had been ignited in all of our hearts lit up the hall as we boarded the good ship Peaches, and sailed on a sea of beer, sweat and piss towards the exit, and the sweet evening air that greeted us, good night and goodnight x (Oh, and I was joking about the piss!).

Review by Les Glover
Photos/videos by Melanie Smith

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