The Stranglers, Auckland NZ, 2020

The Stranglers
15th February 2020
The Town Hall, Auckland, New Zealand.

Review by Mike Beck. Photography by Mark Derricutt.

With a slight reprieve from the run of humid evenings and rainless days recently, Auckland kept it cool and stacked em in tight last night for two bands who are beloved in this corner of the world. Happy to be filling the support slot, a reformed and revamped Mi-Sex (which now seems more Oz strong than Kiwi in band membership) teamed up with one of their contemporaries, and post punk heavyweights, England’s own The Stranglers.

Confidently led out by ex Noiseworks bassist turned lead vocalist Steve Balbi, Mi-Sex took the stage to rapturous applause; their songs delivered with just the right touch of pomposity, helped along by Balbi’s steam punk/goth rocker mashup look.

Since reforming, Mi-Sex have morphed from a line-up containing a substantial percentage of first phase members, into a noticeably next-generation unit, the current line-up featuring James Van Cooper on guitar, Jordan McDonald on drums, and Travis New on bass. Only keyboardist Murray Burns remains from the original formation.

With its lyrical ambiguity and allusion to depression, ‘Blue Day’ is one of Mi-Sex’s most sought after numbers, as well as their last significant hit. Introducing the song, Balbi acknowledged those no longer here, or with the band. Original members vocalist Steve Gilpin (who tragically passed away following a car crash in 1992) and late guitarist Kevin Stanton got a special mention, along with bassist Don Martin who recently departed the group. But perhaps the bluest note of the night was the absence or mention of New Zealand drumming legend Paul Dunningham, who was a significant part of the group during both their heyday and their return.

Seminal hit ‘Computer Games’ had the house jumping high to its disco/synth sixteenth note groove, while the ahead of its time ‘People’ which critiques genetic engineering and the potential ushering in of human cloning gave Balbi the opportunity to lift the crowd with cries of “aren’t you glad to be alive!?” It was a dashing, full-force set, powered along consistently, but surprisingly short at a close to forty-five minute timeslot. No wonder they went for it.

The interim break was drawn out much longer than usual, giving punters permission to purchase plenty of beverages and visit amenities, while also allowing some added anticipation to manifest for the feature act.

Strolling out casually, for what has been heralded as their final tour, The Stranglers looked and sounded the part from the outset. With both the stage and themselves dressed in black, the lads proceeded to rattle off hum-dinging versions of the majority of their many hits. Opening up with the swirling synth-driven ‘Get a Grip on Yourself’, the post-punk Brit darlings had minimal diminish with the subtraction of original frontman, Hugh Cornwell.

Newest and youngest member of the group, drummer Jim Macaulay (replacing the retired Jet Black), appropriately got a cameo feature on ‘5 Minutes’; the time-themed tune ending with Macaulay replicating the ticking of a clock by playing the rims of his drums.

Their delicate baroque ode to heroin ‘Golden Brown’, got off to a shaky start, but was laughed off in true geezer charm by the group collectively. Its ¾ arrangement and odd bar variations, coupled with a just as odd packaging of subject matter, making it one of the more unique songs to hit the airwaves in the latter part of twentieth century.

Special mention must be given to Baz Warne, who did a fantastic job fronting the group. His co-ordination to manage lead vocals, all guitar parts and navigate difficult riffs while singing syncopated vocal lines was immense, not to mention his relentless energy; he’s undoubtedly had some scraps to get that edge.

All in attendance rose to the hopeful ‘Always the Sun’, a beacon of light in their repertoire. ‘Skin Deep’, a male masculinity awareness anthem, hit its emotional target, heralding in a stronger audience voice and bodily movement from the men in attendance. But that was exceeded by ‘Peaches’, its chauvinistic blatancy no deterrent to the sprinkling of women in the great hall from raising their voices in song. Proof yet again that music breaks barriers and brings people together.

At one point Warne took five to have a dig at The Black Caps, coming in hard at the throwers of plastic cups who couldn’t cope with his sharp tongue and cheek; upping the ante he then encouraged his guitar tech to “show them your arse”, to which Dave obliged with no apparent loss of dignity.

Therein the raw version of the Dionne Warwick classic ‘Walk on By’ got an extended rendering, with lengthy back to back Doors-esque synth and guitar solos, the former from original keyboardist Dave Greenfield. A nod here too to the sound techs for the exceptional bass sound reproduction on the night, proving vital for founding member Jean-Jacques Burnel to do his thing, and giving ‘Nice ‘n’ Sleazy’ an intensity that only comes about when all the elements are working in alignment.

Their generous set was compounded with a two song encore, Warne enlightening all with the backstory of the band, coming up as a pub rock group in 1970’s London. “It was a tough scene” he scorned, before breaking into ‘Go Buddy Go’, the first song they wrote (by a then fifteen year old Burnel). Closer ‘No More Heroes’, surmised The Stranglers as a band that not only calls it straight, but one that is unafraid to be outspoken, and delivers their music with an honesty and hard-working ethos. Yes, they keep it real.

The thing with The Stranglers, and most notable last night in a live context, is that they have a unique way of combining their eclectic musical influences, crafting them all together with intelligible lyrics and catchy choruses and riffs to make music that is just as meaningful as it is accessible. Drawing from a pool of genres which include punk, ska, rockabilly, jazz, reggae, country (think Johnny Cash with regards to an outlaw identifier/black thematic attire), rock n roll and even classical, this is no easy feat.

Tag on the most excellent and compatibly suited support of Mi-Sex to the first half of the evening, and what was delivered proved to be a truly illustrious night out of soulful rock n roll for all.

Were you there at The Auckland Town Hall for this brilliant post punk show? Or have you seen The Stranglers somewhere else before? Tell us about it in the comments below!

Setlist:
  1. (Get A) Grip (On Yourself)
  2. Norfolk Coast
  3. Duchess
  4. I’ve Been Wild
  5. No Mercy
  6. Nice ‘n’ Sleazy
  7. This Song Will Get Me Over You
  8. 5 Minutes
  9. Freedom Is Insane
  10. Golden Brown
  11. Always The Sun
  12. Time To Die
  13. Skin Deep
  14. Nuclear Device (The Wizard Of Aus)
  15. Peaches
  16. 15 Steps
  17. Walk On By [Dionne Warwick cover]
  18. Something Better Change
  19. Relentless
  20. Hanging Around
  21. Tank
  22. All Day And All Of The Night [The Kinks cover] [On setlist but unplayed]
  23. Go Buddy Go [encore]
  24. No More Heroes [encore]
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