THE STRANGLERS, with The Rutz, Auckland February 2: Kick Ass, but with a question

Check the songs listed in the encore at bottom of page. Peaches is there, but was not played.

Third song in, and singer guitarist Baz Warne decides it’s time to say hello. He tells the crowd in the Auckland Town Hall that back in 1979 The Stranglers were supposed to play at this venue. Management decided it wasn’t appropriate. But now, 39 years later, they’ve finally arrived. The band launches into Get A Grip On Yourself, the crowd starts jumping like a bunch of twenty somethings, and there’s no looking back.

Of course neither The Stranglers nor those of us in attendance are in our twenties anymore (yes there were one or two young faces, but really, only one or two). Still, Warne, bassist Jean-Jacques Burnel, and keyboardist Dave Greenfield play with such energy and passion, and attitude, that we forget our years and soak up the music.

Together with touring drummer Jim MacAulay, The Stranglers play like they still give a damn. Burnel is a master bass player, as we hear in songs like Nice ‘n Sleazy. He almost prowls the stage, slightly hunched over his guitar, swaying, soaking up the fans’ adulation and you can almost read his face: I still get a kick out of playing this stuff.

Lead vocalist and guitarist Warne has a cocky demeanour, a little tilt of the head and a raise of the eyebrows belies a cheekiness that seems to fit the night. Like any touring artist he tells us what a beautiful country we live in, but good on him for embellishing. I was in Wellington yesterday, he says, and needed to fly to Auckland but there was a cyclone. I’m from England, we don’t have cyclones. But a guy offered me a lift in his car, so I said yes and drove the length of the North Island and so yes, you are lucky to live here. Nice touch, Mr Warne.

Keyboard player Dave Greenfield lets his fingers do the talking, and, this being the first time I have seen The Stranglers, I am struck by how much their sound is centred around his music. Notable examples are the famous Golden Brown, or the wonderful cover of Walk On By.

And the songs? A mix of the hits and other material. As well as the songs I’ve already mentioned, the big crowd pleasers were Always The Sun, Five Minutes, and then a stonking version of No More Heroes to finish. It was an hour and a half charge through their catalogue with barely a breath taken between songs.

Our photo gallery — and thanks to Mike Thornton for the pictures — captures the night superbly.

But there is a reservation. The tour is called The Classic Collection, and a couple of classics were missing. Sure, any band has the right to mix up its set list and keep its audience guessing. But we heard no Skin Deep, and, to the collective sadness of all, no Peaches. In fact after the encore and its final song, the lights come up and almost no one leaves. Where’s Peaches, is the question on everyone’s face. For several moments people stay where they are, until eventually with a resigned look on our faces we realise that is it, and we leave.

And here’s the thing: at the front of stage several set lists are handed out, with Peaches in the encore. Check out the photo on this page. A last moment change of heart, but why?

It would be wrong to let this one disappointment cloud a view of the whole performance. It was very, very good and if you’ve got a chance to see The Stranglers in Wellington tonight it’ll be a cracker of a show. Maybe you’ll get to hear that song with one of the most famous bass lines in all rock. Lucky you.

And a word about opening act The Rutz. Forty minutes of full on punk rock, with a touch of ska, and they won everyone over. A spot-on choice to warm us up for the main act.

Photography: Mike Thornton

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