“Guildford on a Monday night, eh?” Baz Warne, guitarist and vocalist of the Stranglers for the past 18 of the band’s 44 years – cocks his head. His three bandmates have been there since the start: fiercer than ever, they are back on the road with the 2018 Definitive Tour.
It feels slightly unnerving to be standing in a still sea of middle-aged faces checking their watches, waiting for four self-affirmed “old bastards” to come on stage and play the songs that defined an era. It was an era of defiance, of dark humour and sonic experimentation that would reinvigorate a sapless sentiment in society.
In the interval, I feel too young, my dad looks too tired and I worry this was a bad idea. But as soon as “Waltzinblack” begins, teasing a funhouse keyboard-driven narrative while they walk on stage – nothing makes more sense than to see The Stranglers in Guildford on a Monday night.
Needing no small-talk introduction, they crash straight into a back-to-back of all-timers “Curfew” and “(Get a) Grip (On Yourself)”. There’s tangible catharsis in the room as those tired faces are replaced by furiously bobbing heads – to the playfully unhinged nostalgia of iconic rhythms and affronting lyrics.
On the stage behind the band, psychedelic shapes morph into those hallucinatory figures of colour you’d be graced with on Windows Media Player circa 2005. These background projections increase the band’s credibility as wholly unironic showmen. There’s no need, or desire, to conform to current trends of more minimalist aesthetics – and there’s no hiding the determinedly carefree fun they’re having.
This also transpires in the setlist. A breathless, impressive array of tracks focuses mainly on early favourites (the loud karaoke fun of “Something Better Change” proves that, really, it probably doesn’t), a cacophony of anger and frivolous cheek that is still very much relevant.
The moody bass of “Peaches” hits the crowd with delectable swagger, without needing to preface the anticipation. A few new(er) tracks test the waters, from the insistent grumble of 2012 “15 Steps” to a Definitive Tour premiere of “Water”. It all goes down a treat – but there’s nothing quite like the magic that comes with a disco ball-lit room during “Golden Brown”.
Watching The Stranglers in 2018 is as entertaining as it was in 1988, my dad tells me, if not more. As the four-piece perform their original material, the countless young musicians they’ve since influenced all come to mind. A wave of prog rock guitar players and confrontational vocalists find their roots in The Stranglers’ unabashed confidence.
Falsetto keyboard riffs, snarling bass flirtations and fanciful melodies trigger a lot of old memories of experimental rock. This vast and successful exploration creates a symbiosis with the scarce millennials in the crowd, still hungry for the level of untainted freedom on show.
As Dave Greenfield downs his traditional pint during his (now one-handed) keyboard solo during final crowd-pleaser “No More Heroes”, it becomes obvious that the relaxingly low amount of f***s that The Stranglers give is nothing short of inspirational.
Originally published on the Independent