Gig review by Zyllah Moranne-Brown with photography by Ken Harrison

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Well it’s that time of year again, it’s the middle of March though with the freezing cold wind, spring seems to have left us. We can set our clock with this date, this time of year, this venue. Mid March. And here in Brum, at the 02 Academy the Men in Black return, tonight we’ll be a-waltzinblack, with The Stranglers.

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Support tonight comes from The Rezillos. Formed nearly 40 years ago in Edinburgh this punk outfit took a light-hearted look at themselves and punk. Influenced by 50s rock ‘n roll, the 60’s English beat and garage rock and 70’s glam rock, with a bit of sci-fi and B-movie thrown into the mix.  Their biggest UK hit was in ’78 when ‘Top of the Pops’ made the top 20, and their cover version of ‘Somebody’s Gonna Get Their Head Kicked In Tonight’ featured on the soundtrack to ‘Jackass: The Movie.’ They have had a journey since but over the last decade regularly perform live and release singles. A cheer as they take to the stage tonight, this friend affable bunch of punks, take us to their “groovy rooms.” They’re good fun, and give us a half hour set of rock ‘n roll punk – catch them after their set, they’ll be signing merch and are up for having their pictures taken.

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We get a forty minute break, and then the lights go down and a stomping march emits from the speakers. “Battalion halt!… Battalion commence!…” before morphing into the cheeky impish tune that is ‘Waltzinblack.’ THE intro to THE men in black; The Stranglers take to the stage. We start off with instrumental ‘Longships’; guitarist Baz Warne and bass player J.J. Burnel stomp their stuff the band in complete time.

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Burnel takes the vocal lead lead for ‘The Raven’, before starting the next with his iconic bass style, this time it’s Warne on vocals duties – ‘Straighten Out.’ “Are you ready for us tonight?” asks the affable Warne. Warne is so much of an intricate part of The Stranglers now, it is difficult to think of anyone else ever having been in the role. “It’s Saturday night, it’s Birmingham, so let’s grab the party by the back of the f***ing neck shall we?” And they indeed do as we sing: ‘Get a Grip (On Yourself).’

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Tonight is a set of unusual tracks, The Stranglers back catalogue is so extensive, they choose for us –  ‘I’ve Been Wild’ and ‘Four Horsemen.’ And then give us the rolling and aptly named ‘Relentless.’ The Stranglers are warning up very nicely thank you.

And then a huge cheer. The legend that is Jet Black. He’ll be 77 this year, but is still a key part of The Stranglers. Over the past few years his health hasn’t been the best – and maybe age is catching up a tad. But where he can, as where the venue suits, like here at the Academy tonight where two drum kits will fit on stage, he’ll make an appearance. Taking over drumming duties from touring Brummie drummer Jim MacAulay, his arrival on stage brings a huge cheer from the crowd and repeated chanting of his name. He’ll be here for four songs: ‘Baroque Bordello’; the beautiful rendition of ‘Golden Brown’ (hairs stand up on our arms); ‘Always the Sun’ (which blasts the cold winds back eastwards and takes us back to mid-summer, everyone singing) and ‘Genetix.’ Between each song the crowd chant: ‘Jet Black, Jet Black, Jet Black.’

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He takes his leave, the crowd chant his name in acknowledgement. “He’s gone back to bed now” says Baz. Before taking the piss out of Villa – annoyingly he’s a Sunderland fan. Well enough of the banter and we’re back on the setlist – ‘Freedom is Insane.’ Bass beat starts up, with guitar riff. They’ve well and truly warmed up, The Stranglers are on fire, in perfect harmony, and are well into in their stride.

Warne tell us that they’re taking us back to 1980s – when it was all pink and fluffy. “Do you remember the 80s. You all look like you f***in can? I was there too…This one’s for you ….” ‘So Nice in Nice’. From pink and fluffy to punk baby. ‘Norfolk Coast’ followed by the politically incorrectly titled: ‘I Feel Like a Wog!’

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Their setlist shows the broach musical approach of The Stranglers: from the smoozy, and commercially slick ‘Skin Deep’, immediately back to punk with a snarl and sneer, starting up with  Burnel,  that awesome bass beat and to a huge cheer from the crowd – ‘Peaches.’

“How the devil are ya?” Warne asks, before once again taking on the footie fans in more banter. And to a classic track – ‘Duchess’ and we sing and end the track as one… “God forbid.”

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Then the men in black turn it up a notch with a trio of epic proportions: ‘Lost Control’, ‘Curfew’ and ‘Down in the Sewer’. The later commencing with a huge scream from Warne, and as the track goes on and on, the mosh pit send people surfing. Which sees not a young man appearing from the pit with a big grin on his face!  The track  rolls on and on and on and speeds up to an incredible gallop. A massive cheer from the crowd. Set over.

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A quick break and to encore. Warne says he’s lost for words. The Stranglers always go down so well in Brum, it’s a sort of homecoming for them. And they be waiting for founding member and keyboard legend Dave Greenfield to come back from taking a piss. Dave does indeed return, and The Stranglers crank it up yet another notch: ‘Walk on By’ has a rocky bass beat and far more upbeat approach than usual – nothing laid back here as the track rolls and rolls.

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‘All the Day and All the Night’ – we sing and The Stranglers make it seem so easy. As they take it down mid-track Warne states “What a fantastic lovely crowd you are?…. and not too many bald heads in the crowd either!” before they crank it up and up and up. Cheers ring out. But the chaps are not finished. Another break and Burnel takes to the front of the stage – spotlight on him, and a huge grin. He’s slapping his bass. And starts off with a totally recognisable riff. ‘No More Heroes’. And the place goes mad.

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So, why does this band after 40 odd years keep doing this. It is entirely clear tonight. They. Love. It. As much as the fans do. They take their art seriously, they are exceptional performers, Burnel probably the best bass player you will ever see. And like a good wine, they just get better and better with age. And the fans, they are loyal. They are having an equally as good blast as the band. The Stranglers remain uncompromising, they they do it their way, and let us in on the ride. Warne tells us they’ll be back in 12 months. Right here. In Birmingham. Probably the same date. It’s in me diary already.  No more heroes anymore? Pah. I’ve just seen THE Men In Black!

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Setlist
Longships
The Raven
Straighten Out
Get a Grip (On Yourself)
I’ve Been Wild
Four Horsemen
Relentless
Baroque Bordello
Golden Brown
Always the Sun
Genetix
Freedom is Insane
Time to Die
Nice in Nice
Norfolk Coast
I Feel Like a Wog
Skin Deep
Peaches
Time was Once on My Side
Duchess
Lost Control
Curfew
Down in the Sewer

Encore1:
Walk on By
All the Day and All the Night

Encore 2:
No More Heroes

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