The chance to see a legendary (a word not used lightly) band such as THE STRANGLERS play live is too good to pass up on a chilly March evening, and the O2 is a great venue to witness the opening night of the UK leg of their Definitive Tour. Many, or perhaps all, of the crowd gathered eagerly in the semi-gloom of the Academy’s main room are hoping to recapture versions of themselves vaguely remembered from 1979.
The place is a sell-out and anticipation is rising when support band THERAPY? take to the stage. Lead man Andy Cairns powers out tune after tune, blasting through selected items from their back catalogue causing the massing crowd to jump, bounce and generally throw themselves around in time to the churning riffs and pumping drums. The last time they played Liverpool was in 1991 at Planet X according to Cairns, and he and his bandmates are clearly enjoying themselves. Therapy? blaze through their set with the poise and swagger of veteran rockers and warm the crowd nicely for the main event.
The Stranglers take the stage to huge cheers. Baz Warne, now fronting the band with original members Jean-Jacques Burnel on bass and Dave Greenfield on keys, get things going by launching into a powerful version of Curfew and muscle memory kicks in for everyone present. Jerky dancing, pogoing and jumping ensues as the room appears to rumble.
It’s The Stranglers’ distinctive sound that is most impressive, it’s unmistakable with Greenfield’s Manzarek-style keyboard riffs and Burnel’s throbbing bass. Warne is a terrific frontman; an accomplished guitarist and charismatic singer, he delivers with the confidence and attitude of someone who owns each and every song.
At times it’s like the band have forgotten how old they are as they blast through Bear Cage and Nuclear Device ably assisted by the crowd roaring the lyrics back to them. Youthful abandon is conjured on stage and they prove that punk is not dead, it is still vital, still surging from their core. Classics Peaches, Golden Brown and Always The Sun are huge and demonstrate that the songwriting on display here is still gob-smacking. The audience really come alive when these are played, chanting in perfect harmony.
Warne and the boys plough on with Just Like Nothing On Earth and Freedom Is Insane, by which point Burnel’s shirt is unbuttoned to the waist and he is prowling the stage like a man possessed, buzzing the crowd with grins and shockwaves from his bass.
This is a masterclass of musicianship – even the drumming of Jim Macaulay is bang-on, tying the whole together to form a perfect package of propulsive punk pop. The Stranglers may be into late-middle age but their energy, enthusiasm and quality has not waned. Every member of the audience has experienced the burning power of Warne and his merry men and we all file out into the cooling air of real life, ears still ringing with counter-cultural anthems that chronicled our youth.