“It’s a cold Thursday night… that must mean we’re in Aberdeen,” bellows Baz Warne, guitarist of The Stranglers, from Aberdeen’s Music Hall stage to the adoration of the crowd.
This gritty band of outcasts have been playing for nearly 50 years. But judging by their latest Aberdeen performance, they still hold plenty of their trademark musical exuberance.
Safe and sound
The Stranglers were among one of the first music acts to grace a Granite City stage this year as they began their farewell UK tour, coinciding with the easing of Covid-19 restrictions on live events in Scotland.
Safety was paramount at Aberdeen Music Hall on the night from entry to exit.
Face masks and plenty of hand sanitising stations were in full view throughout the venue, making for both a comfortable and memorable sell-out experience.
Where some support acts fail to draw up the ante for the main event, fellow punk era exponents, Ruts DC, set the tone perfectly and almost outperformed their touring counterparts.
The London trio were coherent from start to finish. Babylon’s Burning, their best-known hit, gained a widespread chorus of toe-taps and head-nods from the crowd.
Guitarist Leigh Heggarty’s skillful playing along with the band’s graceful three-part vocal harmonies (who would’ve known this could exist in punk?) made Ruts DC a support well worth coming down early for.
Various line-up changes have graced The Stranglers over the years with bassist, Jean-Jacques Burnel, the only remaining founding member of the band as they hit the road on what is billed as their final full UK tour.
This posed a few questions as the four-piece took to the stage: Would fresh faces bring them a new edge? Would they lose any of their authenticity? And, most importantly, could they find a way to continue without their inimitable keyboard virtuoso, Dave Greenfield, after his passing in May 2020?
As the first few tracks echoed out, JJ’s gnarly bass sounded as nostalgic as ever while Toby Hounsham stood up to the task of filling Greenfield’s boots with great ability on keys.
Known for their infamously raucous behaviour in their early days, Baz best represented The Stranglers’ biting attitude with a profanity-filled welcome to the north-east crowd while also showcasing a close resemblance to original member, Hugh Cornwell’s, distinct vocal twang.
Exploring new ground
The band’s openness to play newer, more cinematic and futuristic material for most of the first half of their performance displayed their belief in this ethos.
Some of these tracks may have fallen a little flat on the night, but from a stage lighting point of view, these provided some of the most impressive visual displays of the concert.
Always The Sun marked a turning point as mantra-like chants ensued from the Doc Martens cladded veterans at the front all the way to those taking it easier at the back.
Peaches and Golden Brown – the band’s most widely acclaimed singles – were then soon played back-to-back with the crowd going wild.
Though JJ’s bass thrilled in Peaches, the spirit of Dave Greenfield was palpable as Golden Brown’s unmistakable harpsichord keys filled the room, marking the real highlight of the night.
Walk on By and Hanging Around were met with further jubilation towards the end of the set as the band later set off for not one, but two contrasting encores.
The first saw JJ take to acoustic guitar, accompanied by Baz on electric, for two sombre tracks including the heartfelt tribute to Greenfield, And If You Should See Dave.
The second gave the crowd what they wanted: A further two energetic numbers with finale, No More Heroes, raising people from their seats, throwing their hands in the air and singing to their heart’s content.
A final hurrah
Admittedly, there’s a sense of magic that’s sometimes lost when bands perform without their original line-ups.
Did the authenticity of The Stranglers’ Aberdeen performance suffer as such? Maybe just a slither.
But progress isn’t possible without change and in no way did this overshadow what was undoubtedly a memorable, sell-out event.
If this is to be The Stranglers’ last UK tour, those in attendance at Aberdeen’s Music Hall witnessed the last remnants of one of the country’s most influential groups of the last five decades.
And that is definitely worth cherishing.
Check out our picture gallery from the gig below: