The Stranglers, Auckland NZ, 2018

The Stranglers 
2nd February 2018
The Town Hall, Auckland, New Zealand.

Review by Sarah Kidd. Photography by Chris Zwaagdyk.

The Stranglers performing live in Auckland, New Zealand 2018. Image by Zed Pics.

Friday night in the city of Auckland and a steady line of punters are making their way towards the doors of the Town Hall for what for many will be the perfect Friday night double header. The English have definitely landed as tonight saw the Town Hall play host to not only the ever popular The Stranglers, but in support the iconic The Ruts (or as they now prefer to be known by as of 2012 – Ruts DC)

It would seem that the English are also a punctual wee lot as the three piece kicked off as soon as the clock struck eight. Unfortunately many fans obviously expected the show to start a bit later than it did, for as Ruts DC made the floor ripple with their first track of the night ‘Surprise’, it was to a half empty room. Led by the pinstriped and rather dapper looking John ‘Segs’ Jennings on the most gorgeous and obviously well-loved bass, Ruts DC hit the ground running, immediately drawing in the crowd and holding them close with their blend of reggae/ska infused punk rock.

Formed in 1977 the London based band was well known for their anti-racist causes; however they – or more specifically – their lead singer Malcolm Owen, was also known for his heroin addiction, which sadly took his life at the tender age of twenty-six. Despite having a couple of UK top ten hits under their belt, The Ruts dissolved in 1980, only to reform some twenty-seven years later at a benefit gig for their lead guitarist Paul Fox who had been diagnosed with lung cancer; sadly Fox died later that year. But as they say, you can’t keep an Englishman down, and you certainly can’t keep a group of them down. So like a phoenix rising from the ashes, Ruts DC was born, Jennings and drummer Dave Ruffy enlisting guitarist Leigh Heggarty to complete the trio.

Making their way through their set it was hard to fault the three piece, they were tight, each member turning like a well-oiled cog – yet without coming across cold and mechanical. From the sly grins to the cheeky quips these boys had an undeniable charm. Jennings handles the vocal side of the business and his voice is solid, with just the right amount of raucous tone coming through on their ‘punkier’ tracks. “There’s not many love songs in this set” Jennings warns the audience in the front row. “Oh here’s a love song … oh no, this one’s about rioting” that English humour with a bite making many in the audience grin. ‘Staring At the Rude Boys’ conjured up visions of the past for many of those in attendance while the ever popular ‘Jah War’ saw the floor delve into some serious skanking.

“So who’s going to see the Foo Fighters tomorrow then?” Jennings asked the crowd, several hands shooting into the air. “Don’t bother! he quipped back, before holding his hands up in front of himself. “I’m joking, I’m joking … sorry Dave …. Grohl.” There was no doubt that two of their biggest hits ‘In a Rut’ followed by ‘Babylon’s Burning’ started a fire in each of the fans bellies as they pushed out the words from deep within themselves. Meanwhile on stage Heggarty was delivering yet another blistering solo, showing all who were there that he ain’t no ‘three chord’ punk. Finishing on ‘Psychic Attack’, Ruts DC thanked the crowd who at this point were almost deafening in their applause.

While many took the break in between bands to grab another beer, others began the scouting for a good position up front; by the time The Stranglers hit the stage the front rows resembled a – reasonably well-behaved – tin of sardines.

With the huge back drop of their name in cursive handwriting behind them, four men, dressed in black strode out onto the stage to a cacophony of whistling, cheering and feverish applause. The audience were primed and ready, their eyes eagerly watching the band, waiting to hear what the opener for the night would be. ‘The Raven’ was first off the ranks, its ferocious bass delivered with a steely glare by Jean-Jacques ‘JJ’ Burnel instantly getting the crowd bopping along on the spot. When it comes to stage presence it’s hard to choose where to look – between Burnel, who thrums the bass with the greatest of ease, and guitarist Barry ‘Baz’ Warne (formally of Toy Dolls and the Troubleshooters) who seems to take the greatest of pleasure in locking eyes with a fan, drawing them into his playing, there is certainly no shortage of enthralling viewing. Bringing up the back of the stage is the charming Dave Greenfield, the oldest member of the band at now sixty-eight. Perched behind his fortress of keyboards, he delights in sipping from his constantly refilled bottle of Steinlager without ever once missing a note. The final member of the band is also the youngest and latest addition, Jim MacAulay on drums filling the very big shoes of founding member Jet Black, who sadly had to retire from touring in 2016. MacAulay does one hell of a stand-up job though, adopting the punk persona of ‘don’t give a damn’ as he works away behind the skins. Not that The Stranglers ever really were just straight punk, truth be told. Formed in 1974 and formally called the Guildford Stranglers, they were born into the pub rock scene. But due to their tenacity and attitude they soon became well embedded in the punk scene despite the fact that they often incorporated several other genres (including new wave) into their music.

Following ‘Get a Grip on Yourself’, Warne addressed the audience, telling them all how they were originally supposed to play the Town Hall years ago but thanks to Australia “No, we don’t like punk rockers!” he sneered in a cartoonish voice, they never made it. “Well thirty-nine years later we’re finally fucking here!”, the crowd going wild in celebration. Despite the fact that there are only two original members left now (it should be noted that Warne has been with the band since 2000) The Stranglers still encompass everything that made them dear to their fans in those early days. From the low down dirtiness of the track ‘Nice N’ Sleazy’ which saw Warne go into overdrive; staring deep into the eyes of many of the female members in the front row and licking his lips; to their cover of the 1956 Dionne Warwick classic ‘Walk on By’ which saw Greenfield deliver a nifty little keyboard solo, the band present each and every track to their fans with integrity and authenticity.

Warne handles the lion share of the vocal duties tonight, although Burnel does sing a few well-chosen tracks himself, his lower octave, raspy voice just what was needed on ‘Don’t Bring Harry’. Finishing on ‘Tank’, The Stranglers wave goodbye, the audience applauding, safe in the knowledge that there will be at least one encore. Sure enough a few minutes later the band returns to the stage and delivers a fantastic rendition of ‘Duchess’ before Burnel steps forward and begins to hammer his bass strings with a closed fist. Crouching down lower, he hits them harder, encouraged by the crowd who are throwing the last of their energy into these final few moments. As Warne kicks in with the opening notes of ‘No More Heroes’ the crowd goes wild, giving themselves over fully to the chorus. Upon its conclusion the band once again bids the crowd goodnight, this time the three oldest members gathering at the front of the stage. A ripple runs through the crowd. Surely they will come back for a second encore? They haven’t played THAT song yet. But alas the fans were left wanting, the stage lights and house music quickly signalling that ‘Peaches’ would sadly not be heard tonight.

A tiny blemish however on an otherwise immaculate evening.

The Ruts DC:
The Stranglers:

Were you there at the Town Hall for this classic punk gig? Or have you seen The Stranglers perform live somewhere else before? Tell us about it in the comments below! 

The Ruts DC Setlist:
  1. Surprise
  2. West One (Shine On Me)
  3. Mighty Soldier
  4. Music Must Destroy
  5. Staring At The Rude Boys
  6. Jah War
  7. Kill The Pain
  8. In A Rut
  9. Babylon’s Burning
  10. Psychic Attack
The Stranglers Setlist:
  1. The Raven
  2. Was It You
  3. Sometimes
  4. Get A Grip On Yourself
  5. 15 Steps
  6. Nice ‘N’ Sleazy
  7. Don’t Bring Harry
  8. Always The Sun
  9. Golden Brown
  10. Bear Cage
  11. J.L.N.O.E
  12. Lowlands
  13. Nuclear Device
  14. Walk On By [Dionne Warwick cover]
  15. Relentless
  16. Norfolk Coast
  17. Hanging Around
  18. 5 Minutes
  19. Tank
  20. Duchess [encore]
  21. No More Heroes [encore]

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