Concert Review: The Stranglers
The Opera House, Wellington, April 14
The bustling throng of bobbing bald heads, ill-fitting black jeans and souvenir T-shirts waiting eagerly in the Opera House foyer, was the surest sign that another overseas supergroup from yesteryear was making a rare visit to these shores.
While there were plenty of younger faces too and "some absolutely gorgeous beauties", as frontman Baz Warne deadpanned, this felt very much like a long-awaited celebration for the faithful. And naturally, The Stranglers did not disappoint. They seem to have handled the usual challenges facing old rockers – age, a changing line-up, the delicate balance between reinvention and sticking with the classics – with relative aplomb, despite the departure of original lead guitarist and key songwriter Hugh Cornwell a quarter-century ago.
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Even the unfortunate absence of drummer Jet Black due to ill health had no discernible effect on the quality of the set: at close to two hours, there was ample time to cover all of the hits that have cemented their reputation.
The Stranglers were always loosely pigeonholed as punk, but as Warne admitted wryly, pub rock is a more comfortable label. This is a band which has put entertainment and experimentation ahead of any notions of genre integrity. Indeed, the current iteration was anchored superbly by original bassist JJ Burnel and Dave Greenfield on the keyboards. The former's punchy, chewy bass lines, which came to the fore in a typically aggressive rendition of Peaches, were balanced by Greenfield's eclectic and, at times, whimsical synthesiser arpeggios.
The diversity of their canon was best shown by an earthy version of Nice 'N' Sleazy being followed by the delicate, waltzing melody of their unique masterpiece Golden Brown. By this early stage, most of the appreciative and raucous crowd were already on their feet, fired up by the fiery opening salvoes of such numbers as Toiler on the Sea and Straighten Out.
There were two encores, of course. Covers of Dionne Warwick's Walk On By and The Kinks' All Day and All of the Night underlined the band's free spirit and willingness to play almost anything. A final blast of No More Heroes was the perfect finish, before an elated and exuberant audience spilled out into the late night air.