What: The Stranglers
Where: Oxford Academy (O2)
When: 15th March 2011
| If you like your rock hot and sweaty with a gritty edge you'd be in your element tonight. It was so hot tonight that you'd have thought we were in the tropics. The temperature didn't stop the fun and music though, on the contrary the acts seemed to revel in it and enjoyed playing to a full house. |
Kicking off tonight was Mike Marlin. A well respected colleague of mine tipped me off to Mike and I managed to catch only a couple of songs including a version of Stayin' Alive (yes the Bee Gees song) which was a shame. So I have scheduled to revisit the Oxford Academy next month to see Mike doing support for Big Country. Now we all know Stayin' Alive but I wouldn't have realised it was the same song if I hadn't of heard the introduction. Mike brings a whole new feel to the song, more like Lou Reed, The New York Dolls or classic Bowie than any weird shrieking by the Gibb brothers.
Second up on the set was the inimitable Wilko Johnson who was previously with Dr Feelgood and Ian Dury's Blockheads. Wilko Johnson plays blues rock to perfection and really warmed the crowd if in these temperatures it was necessary! Wilko strutted and jerked across the stage like nobody else can. Wilko's bassist and also former Blockhead Norman Watt-Roy is a photographer's dream, but in a good way. He is feeling the music at every level and his facial features are unique.
Considering my age and background you would have thought I would have seen The Stranglers before tonight but this was actually my first time and I went away kicking myself for not doing it sooner. I grew up with The Stranglers and it was my best friend and later to become my bassist who was obsessed with them and what prompted us to begin playing ourselves.
What set The Stranglers apart from most of the Punk/New Wave artists of their time were two things. It was JJ Burnel's driving yet melodic bass and Dave Greenfield's swirling keyboards. Put bluntly, even though they played with the drive and aggression of punk they knew how to play and could introduce subtlety and melody into their music. I think that's why The Stranglers have lasted 35 years and why they have sustained hits throughout.
The Stranglers were always a little controversial and opening with "I feel like a Wog" could at first appear like it was designed to provoke. However like most issues what you see on the surface isn't always so apparent when looking deeper. Wog is actually an ANTI-racism song. Tonight's set list included a good cross section of Stranglers material both hits and album tracks. A few things struck me during the set. First one was how timeless some of the songs are and how well they hold up to most of today's alternative rock output. The second was how The Stranglers still bring energy to the delivery. It wasn't long before sweat laden clothes hung from them and sweat was dripping off them with any movement. This not only didn't put them off, it seemed to spur them on. Another thing that struck me was the ages of the audience. It is inevitable that the majority of the crowd were in their forties however there were a large proportion of younger school/college age kids, some with their parents but a large proportion on their own. If a testament to The Stranglers ability to stand the test of time and appeal to a wide audience was needed, then this is surely it.
For me the highlights of the set were JJ's wonderful driving bass on tracks such as "Nice 'n' Sleazy" and "No more heroes". Baz Warne has been with The Stranglers for over ten years now and did a really good job on vocals and guitar. For many fans he'll never be able to replace Hugh Cornwell but if they can put prejudice behind them they will find a great alternative. Backing up the two front men were the two hidden members in Dave Greenfield on Keyboards and founding member Jet Black on drums. With stacks of keyboards, a tightly organised drum set and a small stage you'd be forgiven for missing their contribution, however the solid drumming and textured keyboards would be sorely missed. Drummer Jet Black is in his seventies but can still rock it out.
The other day I wrote a review of the recent re-issues of the Kinks first three albums, where I highlighted how bands took the Kinks music and showed us what great songs they had written. I had forgot about The Stranglers cover of "All the day and all of the night" but was very glad to be reminded during the encore.
I went away hot, sweaty and satisfied vowing to ensure I caught The Stranglers playing on each tour from here on in.