Lincoln’s Engine Shed was packed on Friday, March 8th for the return of The Stranglers on their ‘Feel It Live’ Tour, and the band turned it a tight performance as they delivered a set packed with hits to an appreciative crowd. The band have maintained their reputation for delivering high quality live performances, and if they have lasted better than many of their contemporaries it is probably for the same reasons that seemed to set them apart from the crowd in the heyday of punk, most importantly that in an era when the prevailing ethic was to buy a guitar, learn two or three chords and then form a band (possibly in the opposite order), the members of The Stranglers were talented musicians and songwriters already. It was a difference that showed in the inherent musicality of their early output and in the vein of dark humour in their lyrics, which was often viewed with distrust by other bands.
Many bands that continue after the departure of their ostensible frontman seem to go into gradual but irretrievable decline, but since the departure of Hugh Cornwell in 1990 The Stranglers have remained stable and strong – their most recent album, 2012’s Giants, was an excellent return to a sound akin to that of their 1970s heyday. Cornwell’s vocal and guitar place is now taken by Baz Warne, who has been fulfilling the role for fifteen years, and this line definitely feels like the real thing even for the first half of the show when the drum seat was taken by an alternative drummer. For the second half of the show founder member Jet Black resumed his proper place at the skins – much to the delight of the fans who chanted his name as he arrived and throughout the rest of the show.
In fact what the show made clear was that the core elements of The Stranglers sound remain firmly in place – with Black’s jazz tinged drumming, Jean-Jacques Burnel’s elegant bass lines, and the swirling keyboard riffs of Dave Greenfield at the heart of the music. Highlights included the obvious choices, including “Golden Brown” (which featured a fine vocal from Warne and brought a huge cheer and an outbreak of exuberant pogoing from the crowd), a raucous “Bring On the Nubiles”, “Skin Deep”, “Peaches”, and of course “Heroes”, but there were many other smaller delights along the way. In particular Greenfield’s arpeggios on “Duchess” and scratchy riffs on the reggae tinged “Nice ‘n’ Sleazy”, and the swirling solo on “Straighten Out” were standout moments, as was the way that Burnel’s bass seemed to make the whole hall vibrate on “Heroes”.