The Stranglers – Live Review – Leeds O2 Academy
By Victoria Holdsworth, February 2022
Tonight bore witness the end of a very illustrious career for one of the UK’s most unique and enduring rock bands ever to have emerged from the UK’s punk scene, back in 1974.
Sadly, the death of keyboard player, Dave Greenfield in May of 2020 may have played a factor in bringing this amazing musical journey to a premature end. However, keyboardist Tony Hounsham plans to honour him in style this evening.
The Stranglers have been selling out crowds for the past 45 years, and tonight is no exception, as the The O2 Academy looks to have been sold out beyond capacity. Young and old alike have crammed into any spare nook and cranny they could find to bid a fond farewell to one of the greatest bands of our time.
As the unmistakable sound of ‘Waltzinblack’ floods through the speaker system, fanfaring the guys’ arrival, The Stranglers take to the stage feeling the full blown force of rapturous applause. Making their appreciative acknowledgments to the crowd they get straight into the set with ‘Toiler On The Sea’ from their ’78 album Black and White, followed quickly by a very poignant version of the classic, ‘Something Better Change’, which ignites the jostling crowd into a complete meltdown.
The Stranglers’ iconic sound, which has undoubtedly made them the musical force they remain today, continues with classics such as ‘Nice ‘n’ Sleazy’, ‘Skin Deep’ and ‘Don’t Bring Harry’, which sees the crowd getting louder and louder with each note played and sung.
Whilst for some Stranglers fans, lead singer Baz Warne will always be overshadowed by the lingering adoration of Hugh Cornwell, however, after all these years, he really does hold the crowd because he is a remarkable front man and guitarist and ,quite simply, one of them… a Strangler.
‘The Last Men on the Moon’ from Dark Matters was outstanding tonight with its marauding bass lines and Jim Macauley’s hard hitting drumming, punctuating every beat, leading into some of the most musically recognisable songs of all time, such as ‘Golden Brown’, ‘Strange Little Girl’, ‘(Get a) Grip (on Yourself)’.
The whole set tonight is dominated by material released between 1977 to 1990, with a few cover versions thrown in for good measure, including an extended Doors soaked rendition of the Dionne Warwick hit ‘Walk On By’, which really shows their impressive improvisational skills as musicians, all feeding off one another and performing oneupmanships, delighting the crowd yet again.
The end of the first act draws upon three big guns from the back catalogue, with the energy infused punk sounds of ‘Straighten Out’. Switching it up to the more mod sounding classic ‘Duchess’, from the ’79 album The Raven has to be one of my favourites tonight, with everyone singing their hearts out. Ending the set on the anthemic ‘Hanging Around’, which has some of the best guitar riffs you will ever hear, is just pure magic to the ears and the entire building is just a mass of vibration like I have never felt before.
After a brief interval, the first of two encores sees Baz and JJ situate themselves on two stools, and strip things back to the bare bones of ‘The Lines’, which ends on the closing lines of “There’s triumph and disgrace/ In the lines on my face/ These are for the smiles/ When I look upon your face”, which couldn’t be a more fitting message to all of the fans who have stuck with them all these years.
Next up was the ultimate tribute song, ‘If You Should See Dave’, sung beautifully and packed with raw emotion from the duo, touchingly spilling out across the masses and I witnessed many grown men around me unashamedly shed a tear for the lost band member, which was one of the most moving things I have seen in a long while.
The second encore sees the rest of the band return for their final moments and they do not disappoint with their closing choices. ‘5 Minutes’ nearly tears the roof off the place and you could physically feel the floor shaking around you, closely followed by the equally pulse racing cracker, ‘Tank’.
Saving the very best until last, the lyrically apt, ‘No More Heroes’, sees an eruption of epic proportions from the crowd, whilst also giving them their the last few moments to savour the bracing presence of one of the most formidable bands of our generation.
The guys humbly said a very quiet goodbye, to what had been an explosive night, thanking their fans for their years of support, with Baz adding: “Cheers Leeds, you’ve been fuc*ing amazing to us over the years.” And with that, they slink back into the shadows, with just the backdrop remaining, like the smile of the Cheshire cat.