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Wednesday 10 July 2019

A View From The Back Of The Room: The Stranglers (Live Review By Alex)

The Stranglers & Ruts DC, Caerphilly Castle, Caerphilly

Despite being born into a musical landscape dominated by the raucous and unruly tones of punk, that particular garb never really suited the Stranglers, with their sense of experimentation and skill. Don’t misunderstand me, they definitely took on the sound at times. However, their emphasis on lofty keyboard arrangements, their knack for unpredictable song structures, and their overall experimental nature excludes them from being classified along with The Ramones or the Damned as archetypes of the punk project. A casual listener might be forgiven for not being familiar with an admittedly huge discography. In fact, they might look at the support act tonight, and consider Ruts DC to be almost akin to the headliners. Still, there is a wide and varied discography on display from both bands, and while it becomes clear that the main act has been massively less partial to sticking to a tried and true idea, both perform with vigour and passion. It helps that the venue location is excellent as well. Located in one of the yards of Caerphilly Castle, there is a sense of earnestness and comfort which you can’t really get from a stadium or an arena, especially one that’s indoors. Together, these elements merge into an exciting experience.

Ruts DC (8) open, performing some of their most well-known anthems. Babylon’s Burning provokes the biggest crowd reaction of the set, and the first in a few of the most polite moshes I’ve ever experienced. Something that I said, Staring At The Rude Boys, Shine On Me and In A Rut also make an appearance in the setlist, provoking energetic singalongs. Meanwhile, Haggarty, Jennings, and Ruffy perform with the freneticism shown by the crowd, excelling from each other’s liveliness and passion for playing. In keeping with the brand, our frontman jokingly throws two fingers up to me, before making a consolatory hand gesture, proving once more that punk rock is nothing without good manners. They only calm down for Jah War which provokes some unwelcome heckles from those seemingly unfamiliar with punk’s longstanding fondness for reggae music. Standing out in the setlist though are newer songs Music Must Destroy and Kill The Pain, which shows a willingness to move forward and embrace modern styles, yet simultaneously capture the magic and social conscious of early anthems. By the end of their 45-minute set, everyone in the spacious courtyard is powerfully enthused for the main act.

A Waltzinblack tape interest opens as flaring orange lights signal the Stranglers (9) entry to the stage. Sparing no time or energy, they dive into Toiler (On The Sea), immediately sending the crowd into another mannerly mosh. Get A Grip On Yourself and Peaches of course cause some of the biggest shout-along moments of the night, while Golden Brown and Skin Deep, sees everyone quietly listen in a gracious yet exciting style. Perhaps the most inspiring moment comes with Always The Sun, a truly beautiful song made all the more so by our voices rising in unison as the same sun sets, spilling its radiant orange over the archaic remains of the Castle. Although the vast array of different genres on display tonight – from the Avant-garde of moments like Duchess to the alt-rock of newer songs like Unbroken – throws shade on the punk label, the attitude is certainly present. As one person throws a bottle on stage, vocalist Baz Warne taunts ‘Ooh, indiscreetly throwing bottles, you’re a big man, aren’t you? If anyone throws a bottle, and It hits me, you’re f***ing out’. Later, in response to another ill-educated heckle that he is not, in fact, Hugh Cornwell, he retorts with ‘no I’m not, what the f**k’s that got to do with anything?’ leading to roars of approval. In defiant fashion, both of the original members, bassist Dave Greenfield and keyboardist Jean-Jacques Burnel, perform with an eagerness and exhilaration. Given that some of his parts are incredibly complex and detailed, Burnel makes the occasional mistake, yet still give an impressive performance, deserving credit for his virtuosity.

The band of course finish with some more classics, tearing through the angsty Something Better Change and the ferocious 5 Minutes. They round off the main set with Hanging Around. Still, this crowd seems determined to hear an encore and sure enough, they come back on, finishing with Tank and No More Heroes. The sun has fully set by now and the enveloping buzz of the music, the bright glare of the stage lights, and the jostles of crow members – now fully immersed in the music, creates a yet fervent, avid quality.

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