The Stranglers w/ Mi-Sex
Opera House, Wellington
Friday, February 14
I saw The Stranglers in 2016 – this version of the band. And it was superb. So much so I wasn’t sure I needed to see the band again (they’ve been back twice since) but then something made me think that it wouldn’t at all hurt to see them again. Those songs, man. They pack in the songs. I saw Buzzcocks twice within a few years, and yes they delivered similar sets but both were great.
And so it was with The Stranglers. I was also interested to see Mi-Sex.
Only one original member in Mi-Sex – but they delivered the hits and celebrated the 40th Anniversary of Graffiti Crimes and the audience steadily moved to the front – and of course it all peaked with Computer Games. Which sounded fantastic.
After a quick break The Stranglers hit the stage. The leader of the band, now, is Baz Warne. He joined in 2000 as a guitarist and for the last decade or so he’s been running the shit, hitting home runs anew out of Hugh Cornwell’s past hits. Warne has a great on-stage energy. He’s full of jokes and good banter, but he’s not there to fuck spiders. He’s on stage to jukebox-out an incredible run of hits. The Stranglers’ great catalogue is in safe hands. And of course with Jean-Jacques Burnel’s distinctive – crucial – bass parts still intact, JJ still able to play those melodic big bottom-end pieces, it’s as good as can be.
There I was hearing that great run of hits all over again – (Get A) Grip (On Yourself), Nice ‘n’ Sleazy, Something Better Change – that fantastic cover of Walk On By. Much like the early Elvis Costello and Nick Lowe records this was punk’s energy with a literate heart.
I’m a big fan of the band’s 1980s pop and post-punk gems – Skin Deep arriving mid-set here as a nice pick-up in energy, Always The Sun a great singalong anthem.
Look, there was one glaring issue this time around. One thing that made the show not as great as that 2016 showcase: Keyboardist David Greenfield is out of touch. His sloppy playing threatened to kill the vibe of a couple of the important classics. He was woefully out of step during Golden Brown; the waltz-time harpsichord part being the most crucial, driving musical element. But new drummer Jim MacAulay (in the fold since 2015) was working hard to try to save the song.
The keyboards were angled up to protect Greenfield – but as he reached for a beer, more than once, during what was clearly a two-handed solo it was curious to wonder how much of the parts were pre-recorded, and whatever he was trying to add to the sound live he was totally fucking up. It was utterly embarrassing. His tone and touch just lost.
At least a song like Peaches, with its purposely dirty bass line can fix all of that; can wash away the bad taste.
That and Baz Warne working hard to just deliver again and again. Each song reinforcing the appeal of the band. The hardcore fans up front, and everyone in the audience on their feet.
These songs have lasted. And they’re so well served by 3/4s of this version of the band. I left wondering if it was just a bad night for Greenfield, or if there is something deteriorating within him; his ability compromised, I mean that out of genuine concern but at any rate he threatened to kill some of these tunes. The fans were lapping it up though, launching into every one as if it was the only thing that mattered. A night out with The Stranglers won’t ever (fully) disappoint.
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