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22nd February 2022

Live Review: The Stranglers wave goodbye with a whirlwind of greatest hits

The punk-rock icons celebrate their 50 year career with a greatest hits set at Manchester’s O2 Apollo.
Live Review: The Stranglers wave goodbye with a whirlwind of greatest hits

Tonight, Ardwick’s art deco Apollo opens its doors to some 3500 punk-rockers as The Stranglers embark on their farewell tour, in memory of late vocalist and keyboardist Dave Greenfield, who passed away in 2020.

With a career spanning five decades, the Surrey quartet are no strangers to Manchester, having built up a following of stalwart supporters. It becomes clear upon entering the Apollo that these same fans have entered in droves – the crowd is decidedly middle-aged which is by no means a bad thing. In fact, it enhances the atmosphere as these people have had the lyrics to these songs inscribed in their heads for years and clearly relish the opportunity to belt them out at a concert venue one last time.

Support is provided by fellow 70s sensations The Ruts, or Ruts D.C. as they are sometimes referred to, whose amalgam of punk, ska, and reggae is received rapturously by the audience.

Of the band’s original line-up, only vocalist and bassist Jean-Jacques Burnel remains. Over the years, they have employed a number of touring musicians but for this tour the band includes Baz Warne (guitar, vocals), Jim Macaulay (drums), and Toby Hounsham (keyboards).

The Stranglers perform an immense 27-song set, taking a deep dive into their discography, celebrating their status as one of Britain’s most beloved and enduring punk bands. Emerging beneath crimson lights, the band kick things off with ‘Toiler on the Sea’ from their 1978 album Black and White. It is a thunderous affair of rumbling percussion, piercing synths, and tumultuous guitar licks with a lengthy instrumental intro causing anticipation to soar.

Burnel’s voice is simultaneously smooth and spunky. He cuts an almost menacing figure, dressed head-to-toe in black, stood with his legs hip-width apart and brandishing a glossy bass guitar as one would a weapon. He provides the pulsating basslines which carry tracks like ‘Something Better Change’ and ‘Sometimes.’ “I’d like to raise a glass to every single one of you” he says.

New wave number ‘Skin Deep’ still cuts, figuratively, with its jaunty instrumentation and airy “ooo” refrain. The Clash-esque ‘Nice ‘N’ Sleazy’ packs a punch, meanwhile the synth-laden serenity of ‘Strange Little Girl’ shines.

A trilogy of classics ensue somewhere around the mid-point of their set, beginning with the buoyant ‘Always The Sun.’ Its shimmering guitar melody and spirited backing vocals imbue the room with a sense of optimism. The gnarliness of ‘Peaches’ endures, with its reggae-inspired groove and absurd lyricism invoking infectious movement amongst the crowd.

The sung-spoken verses and instantly recognisable refrain work to stir the crowd into a frenzy. This culminates in perhaps their most commercially successful song, ‘Golden Brown’. Its distinct harpsichord melody, new wave stylings, and soulful intonations still make it one of their best tracks, and this translates in a live setting.

The Stranglers embrace their influences tonight, throwing in the odd cover – namely Burt Bacharach’s ‘Walk On By’, which bestows a moment of catharsis in its extended outro, and ‘This Song Will Get Me Over You’, originally performed by Disciples of Spess. The main set closes with the ever-brilliant ‘Hanging Around’, as a rogue crowd surfer is clumsily carried overhead.

The audience is treated to not one, but two encores. In between these sets, chants of “Stranglers, Stranglers, Stranglers” resound off the ornate interiors. The first encore includes a rather poignant performance of ‘And If You Should See Dave…’, a tribute track lifted from the group’s most recent record, 2021’s Dark Matters.

“A lot of great bands came from the pubs, trying to get 25 quid a night” Burnel muses before leading into ‘No More Heroes.’ It marks a fitting end to their expansive set. Its frenetic riffs allow the crowd to unleash their excitement, as they echo Burnel’s interrogative: “What ever happened to all of the heroes?”

This is, undeniably, a greatest hits set, which will entertain anywhere between the casual and the seasoned Stranglers fan. It is a celebration of a 50-year music career; of the pervasiveness of punk, and its ability to transport audiences to an era of recklessness and rebellion, but compressed into a two-hour set, and (unlike the old days) probably with everyone home and to bed before midnight.

Sarah Taylor

Sarah Taylor

Head Music Editor @ The Mancunion. Freelance Music and Culture Writer @ DIY, The Line of Best Fit, Gigwise, etc. Avid gig-goer and alt-rock enthusiast! Twitter: @tayl0rsarah LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/sarah-taylor-48a562211/

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