By James Peppercorn, MA English Literature
Playing one of the biggest venues in Bristol, The Stranglers continue their final full UK tour playing to a packed out O2 Academy. One of the most intriguing and melodic bands to come out of the first wave of British punk bands in the late 70's, the band are showcasing their wide and diverse plethora of tunes in an all-encompassing Tour de France.
Opening band, The Ruts began the night in spectacular fashion. The group's fast paced and schizophrenic playing was on full display, bellowing like a cannonball to the face, a great big wallop with near perfect precision. Songs like 'In a Rut' and their iconic punk anthem 'Babylon's Burning' were a perfect rev up to bring the Monday evening crowd to life.
The Stranglers entered the stage to a raucous reception from the crowd, and got things underway at full pelt. They didn’t hold back for the rest of the 26-song set. That may sound like a huge number of tracks to keep the crowds attention, however the band managed it with bombast and swagger. Singer and guitarist Baz Warne and original bassist Jean-Jacques Burnel took the front while drummer Jim Macaulay and fill-in keyboardist Toby Hounsham played on raised plinths. Hounsham did a spectacular job throughout the set, replacing original keyboardist Dave Greenfield, one of the defining elements of the band who sadly passed away in 2020. The band’s 2021 UK Top-Five album, Dark Matters, and this tour are all dedicated to Greenfield.
The show also coincided with Jean-Jacque Burnel's 70th birthday. The incredible bassist however moved with the energy and plays with the fresh precision of an artist just starting out, floating around his manic bass lines effortlessly. The group blasted so fast through the first run of tracks that they became a blur. Tracks like 'Water' and 'Nice n' Sleazy' showcased the band's use of prowling bass lines, menacing keyboards, snarling guitar and pummelling drums. The rendition of 'Always the Sun', with its startling melody, garnered one of the biggest singalongs of the evening.
Then suddenly in the middle of the set, the band dropped a one-two punch of 'Peaches' and their biggest hit 'Golden Brown'. Both songs sent the crowd into a frenzy with 'Golden Brown' creating a ballroom-like feel to the entire evening - disco ball and shimmering lights included. The main set ended with their cover of Burt Bacharach's 'Walk On By', showcasing each member's individual talent.
After a small break, Warne and Burnel came out with acoustic guitars, showing a lighter sound to the band's usual punk-pummel. Burnel's voice and guitar on 'And If You Should See Dave', a tribute to his friend of 45 years, lead to the biggest applause of the night with everyone in the crowd showing their support and love. This was a stunning and unifying moment, with every single person in attendance feeling an overwhelming sense of loss and resilience.
Happy 70th birthday to the one & only J.J.Burnel, bass maestro & 7th dan karateka, best wishes from all at Stranglers HQ x (photo Colin Hawkins) pic.twitter.com/nUm6fOmAKD— The Stranglers (Official) (@StranglersSite) February 21, 2022
The rest of the band came out for the last tracks of the evening, with Burnel even taking his shirt off in celebration - and not looking half bad for somebody who has just hit 70… The band sent the entire place into overdrive with the finale of 'No More Heroes', a rallying cry to all the greats who we have lost over the centuries. When the band left the stage after this marathon set, it felt like it could have continued on for another hour with ease.
If this truly is their final tour, The Stranglers have cemented their legacy and shown us why they will always be the sleaziest, sexiest and most intriguing of punk bands.
Featured image: Redferns
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