REVIEW: The Stranglers, O2 Academy, Newcastle

It was never meant to be like this. Punk was supposed to blast the old guard into oblivion in a whirlwind of rebellion, fury and energy. Clearly no-one told The Stranglers the grand plan but then The Stranglers weren't like the rest of the Punk crowd, being more musical, more versatile and far, far superior musicians and bearing more influences of The Doors, Velvet Underground and The Who than The Stooges and the New York Dolls of their Punk compatriots.

Forty years on from the release of their first two albums in 1977, Rattus Norvegicus and No More Heroes, The Stranglers are back on the road for a mammoth 19 date UK tour to mark that landmark occasion.

In fact it’s worth pondering on this very occasion to think, who would be able to repeat such a feat these days? Releasing two full albums in one year is just unthinkable today and we’re all the worse off for it.

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With a set list drawing a healthy number from those two birthday celebrating albums together with classics, rarities and newer songs, each night of the tour featured a different selection of material keeping fans and band fresh and enthusiastic.

Enthusiastic was certainly the watchword for the night as they launched into Toiler on the Sea from their Men In Black opus before heading into Was It You and Sometimes, the first of several from Rattus.

Being from Sunderland there was always going to be some banter from the crowd and lead singer Baz Warne replied with some fruity witticisms of his own as only a seasoned frontman could.

With an instantly recognisable and totally unique sound built around the forceful, pumping bass of Jean-Jacques Burnel and Dave Greenfields swirling keyboards with Baz Warne adding the necessary twist to the melodies giving the likes of Nice ‘n’ Sleazy and Get A Grip (Of Yourself) the requisite bite.

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While the old warhorse Jet Black may have retired from live shows, he remains a fully-fledged member of the band, his place on the drum stool was taken with his full approval by Jim MacAulay who did a sterling job.

Needless to say the crowd responded in ebullient fashion as the classics came thick and fast from iconic bass intro to the swaggering Peaches, to the powerful Hanging Around although they did show their more laid back side with Always The Sun and Golden Brown replete with a mirror ball shooting shards of light around the hall.

It’s not all looking back in nostalgia for The Stranglers, however, as they remain a fully creative force with new material in the pipeline and more recent material Freedom Is Insane and 15 Steps sounding every bit as vital and fresh as the old classics.

Whereas Baz Warne takes the bulk of the vocal duties Burnel handles 5 Minutes and the Rock ‘n’ Roll romp of Go Buddy Go with ease. Even Dave Greenfield gets a shot behind the mike during the Prog flavoured Genetix although for most part he was peering over the top of a huge bank of keyboards, the likes of which haven’t been witnessed since Rick Wakeman donned a cape on stage.