For someone who believes that music culture must constantly evolve to stay vital, seeing a treasured band whose heyday was the late 1970s and 1980s is potentially loaded with ambivalence. Weren’t punks supposed to kill their idols rather than queue to watch them on the nostalgia circuit? Listening to a band whose debut album came out in the punk Year Zero of 1977 in 2019 is akin to listening to a band from 1935 in 1977. And yet it doesn’t feel that way. It is both a compliment to The Stranglers and an indictment of today’s rock scene that the band’s best music still sounds fresh.
The Stranglers’ arrival on stage at the Brighton Dome is heralded by their instrumental track ‘Waltzinblack’ being played over the PA. They launch into the song ‘Tank’ from the third album ‘Black and White.’ I’m standing a short distance from Jean-Jacques Burnel, arguably the greatest bassist in punk. His pugilistic playing is immediately recognisable and a thrill to watch. On the other side of the stage is Baz Warne, who has been with the band as a guitarist since 2000 and as lead singer since 2006. He engages in banter with the audience throughout, teasing and joking with the fans. They follow ‘Tank’ with ‘I’ve Been Wild’, the only song in the set from 2004’s ‘Norfolk Coast,’ the album that got the band back into gear after a period of decline in the 1990s. Next is ‘(Get A) Grip (On Yourself)’, the band’s first single, which gets the crowd moving. Throughout the performance the sound at the Brighton Dome is impeccable.
The Stranglers were one of the pivotal bands of the original punk era, standing apart from their peers due to Dave Greenfield’s swirling keyboards. Both ‘Rattus Norvegicus’ and ‘No More Heroes,’ released less than six months apart in 1977, are classics of the genre. They play four songs each from these albums tonight, including the snarling multi-part ‘Down In The Sewer’ and the lustful ‘Peaches’. There are also three songs from their more experimental 1979 album ‘The Raven,’ including a particularly enjoyable rendition of ‘Baroque Bordello’, as well as a smattering of tracks from their new album due later in the year. The whole venue is illuminated by a shimmering sea of green spots for the brilliant ‘Golden Brown’, which stands alongside The Only Ones’ ‘Another Girl, Another Planet’ and Lou Reed’s ‘Perfect Day’ as one of those great love songs that you later find out is about heroin. The one-two punch of the encore – ‘Hangin’ Around’ and ‘No More Heroes’ – excites much pogoing at the front.
Despite their central importance to the punk movement, and arguably releasing the first post-punk album with ‘Black and White’, The Stranglers have been marginalised in histories of the scene. While some argue that this is due to their hostility to journalists and the sexism of songs such as ‘Bring on the Nubiles’, author Phil Knight believes this is because they brought to the fore issues of ‘identity, status and structure’ that society would rather not think about. Whatever the truth, The Stranglers are one of the last great survivors of the original British punk scene.