Live Review: The Stranglers – Warrington

Live Review: The Stranglers - Warrington
27th February 2022
Support: The Ruts DC
Words: Dan Barnes

I wasn’t supposed to be reviewing this show – rather it was going to be the Manchester Apollo gig as it intended to be four days later. But with Baz Warne coming down with something unfortunate, forcing the postponement of the Cardiff, Nottingham and Warrington shows, then it leaves me to assess the Parr Hall performance as being the last time I would see the Men in Black on a full UK tour.

There will be – and are – other shows planned: Friday night at R-Fest in Blackpool in August being the next scheduled time I’ll encounter the band again, but not to have the annual spring tour to look forward to is heart-breaking, especially when the band are on this form.

Before witnessing the end of an era, support band The Ruts DC manage to create a massive sound for a three-piece. Drawing much of the set from The Crack album, songs like opener, Something That I Said, You’re Just A… and Jah War are greeted like the old friends they are. No matter where they play The Ruts DC always lay a marker down for those bands unfrozen enough to have to follow them. Having seen them over the years giving runs for their money to bands like Stiff Little Fingers and the Addicts, you know any band who announce the trio means business.

When you’ve got Babylon’s Burning and Staring at the Rude Boys locked and loaded, primed and ready to launch, there’s likely to be only one outcome.

One the surface of it the stage set looks somewhat paired down since the Back on the Tracks tour of 2019, but technical wizardry means the simplicity hides a multitude of surprises.

The stage darkens and the strings of Waltzinblack drives anticipation to the maximum. Once The Stranglers hit the stage it’s evident that there is a desire to play hard and fast tonight; maybe it’s the smaller stage at the Parr Hall in comparison to the Apollo or that this is realistically the last night of the UK tour, but the high intensity pouring from the band is palpable.

Billed as The Final Full UK Tour In Memory of Dave The Stranglers are looking to both promote their latest record – and Vive Le Rock 2021 Album of the Year – Dark Matters, as well as pay a fitting tribute to Dave Greenfield, whose tenure as the band’s keyboard player lasted from 1975 to his untimely passing in May 2020.

As with the previous tour, Toiler on the Sea opens the show, with Baz and JJ sharing vocal duties throughout. The set is a perfect blend of not just the old and the new, but the fierce and the mellow. Something Better Change, Curfew and Straighten Out are take-no-prisoners, balls-to-the-wall songs that gets the pit pogoing for joy; while classics like Skin Deep, Always the Sun and the cover of Walk On By gives the audience time to catch their collective breath.

The Stranglers have never really fit into the standard concept of a Punk band. Even back in the day they were criticised by the press for their outsider status; a press who seemed to have missed the whole point of the Punk movement, preferring instead to fixate on the image.

Throughout their career the band have always striven to defy expectations and to avoid being pigeon-holed. So, when they follow the lascivious Nice N’ Sleezy, with the winsome Don’t Tell Harry; or the infectious basslines of Peaches with the neoclassical waltz-like Golden Brown, they do so because that is how The Stranglers do their thing.

Such is the strength of the new material that half-a-dozen of Dark Matters tracks are aired, and each represent something of a different aspect of the band as they close in on fifty-years of existence. The at times ambient and acoustic while at other times heavy and melodic album opener, Water shows

that Toby Hounsham isn’t taking the role of Dave’s replacement lightly and is honouring the legacy with some soaring keyboard parts. This Song pummels away as does Last Men on the Moon and JJ’s bass – which seems heavier than ever tonight – leads a magnificently moving version of White Stallion.

The first encore is sees just Baz and JJ return and seat themselves on a couple of stools, acoustic guitars in hand and strum out The Lines, a new track about growing old. Inevitably, they play If You Should See Dave, a gentle song, filled with both sorrow for an absent friend and gratitude for the joy he gave. When the stage darkened and only the lights beneath the keyboard riser shone, and as Baz sang the lyric “This is where your solo would go” there was hardly a dry eye anywhere in the auditorium.

The whole band returned for the second encore of Go Buddy Go and the usual set closer, No More Heroes, bringing an end to not only a magnificent, and emotional, night of music but to a regular touring career that demonstrated the band to be consistently brilliant year after year.

There will of course be other shows going forward: one-offs and festival appearances aplenty and every one of those will be savoured as an event and a testament to what a great band The Stranglers still are after all these years.

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