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'Cambridge, Corn Exchange, 18th October 2008'   

-  Genre: 'Rock'

Our Rating:
Well known for being notoriously partisan, Stranglers' audiences are difficult to convert at the best of times. Yes, some of their opening acts in recent years (Gold Blade spring to mind) haven't fared too badly in the eye of the hurricane, but supporting the Men In Black remains a slot for men of courage, steely reserve and preferably with plenty of loud guitars in tow.

Cue oddball Salford duo STARBASE 109 and there are no guitars to be seen. Or even a drum kit or anything even resembling regular mike stands come to that. Instead, we're treated to the bizarre spectacle of two black-clad geezers (OK, they got that bit right) in tin helmets armed with a couple of synthesizers, radio mikes and, er, several household appliances. Oh dear: I think there could well be a lot of blood spilt.

However, despite violent images of Suicide supporting The Clash in 1978 immediately springing to this reviewer's mind, Starbase actually pull off... well, not exactly mass acceptance, but at least escaping unscathed. There again, their sheer (and very English) eccentricity weighs in their favour. I mean, if you're going to play tinkly-bonk synth-pop akin to a low-watt Kraftwerk in front of a Stranglers crowd, at least have the sense to ensure the songs are about gravediggers, genetic engineering and, ahem, the Green Cross Code.

So in this sense, Starbase 109 have ticked their boxes and indeed, by the time they have the audacity to rev up a vacuum cleaner for their last song they appear to have confused the crowd into submission. Or possibly numbing apoplexy. It's obviously a good ploy, though, for they head for the wings intact before the moshpit can comprehend what they've just witnessed. Quite a result, bearing in mind a trip to the emergency wing at Cambridge's Addenbrooke Hospital looked likely at the outset.

But really anyone opening for the mighty STRANGLERS is merely a diversion at best and it must be said the atmosphere wavers somewhere between 'expectant' and 'electric' as the familiar 'Waltzinblack' intro music spreads around the auditorium and four black-clad figures take the stage to the kind of applause reserved only for long-term champions.

Of course, this particular UK outing is The Stranglers' Greatest Hits jaunt, something which – for lesser bands -   could easily be a perfunctory, take-the-money-and-run affair. So it's a testament to The Men In Black that they are determined to grab this lap of honour by the balls and remind us why they have (against the odds) survived and eventually thrived in the post-Hugh Cornwell years.

And, boy, are they revitalised these days. Looking lean and hungry, JJ Burnel and Baz Warne simply OWN the front of the stage from the off, while Dave Greenfield's keyboard prowess remains breathtaking even after all these years and (joy upon joy!) Jet Black's back up there behind the kit and playing like a man barely half his age. Crucially (and I mean no disrespect to former vocalist Paul Roberts here) they look absolutely right again now, slimmed down to a quartet and ready to take on any would-be disturbance in their path.

New boy Warne must take much of the credit for this renaissance. His vintage, slashing Telecaster cuts through with melody and vitality and, while you'd struggle to replicate Cornwell's acerbic wit and caustic delivery, Warne's world-weary vocals are charismatic enough to carry it off and his outspoken Geordie wit (“I'd like to thank Starbase 109...what the fuck was that about?”) is never less than engaging. His presence helped bring about the critical and commercial successes reaped by the band's recent pair of albums, 'Norfolk Coast' and 'Suite 16' and these days he's clearly at home helming The Stranglers' leviathan of a back catalogue too.

The opening clutch of songs alone is enough to have most bands going weak at the knees. A venomous '(Get A) Grip (On Yourself)' opens the proceedings and a vitriol-throated Burnel vocal coats 'Five Minutes' in industrial strength menace. If these aren't gobsmacking enough, a leerier than hell 'Peaches' follows through with the sort of cocksure arrogance most 20-somethings would give their inheritances away for and 2006's energised 'Spectre Of Love' sounds anything but dwarfed by the illustrious history surrounding it.

Hearteningly, they usher in the more considered moments with grace and agility too.   'Strange Little Girl', for example, remains as wistful and gorgeous as ever; the inevitable 'Golden Brown' is played with love even if (reputedly) they're sick of wheeling it out and songs like 'No Mercy' and 'Always The Sun' are both robust and likeably world-weary enough to remind you that at least portions of The Stranglers' mid-to-late '80s material have stood the test of time with dignity intact.

There are some magnificent detours from the strict 'Greatest Hits' format, too, with a tense and proud version of Burnel's epic 'The Raven', a steroid-ed up 'Hanging Around' (punctuated by a have-a-go stage invader) and – perhaps best of all – a lethal 'Tank' (explosions and all!) upping the excitement ante to levels which should probably come equipped with a government health warning. There's room for humour, too: a welcome 'Thrown Away' is announced as the band's “disco moment” and opens with the hilarious sight of JJ and Baz linking arms and indulging in the funniest jig'n'reel workout you've ever seen.

To say they've got us eating out of their hands by this stage is something of an understatement, but there's still time to send the mosh pit stark staring radio rental courtesy of the scabrous, Hooray Henry-baiting pop of 'Duchess', a colossal 'Walk On By' and a crunching 'All Day & All Of The Night': a song so synonymous with The Stranglers these days you almost forget it's actually a Kinks number.

They return swiftly for a determinedly heavy 'Nuclear Device' and JJ's chugging 'Something Better Change', but it's still not quite enough to assuage the masses. They return a second time, this time with JJ stripped to the waist and pugilistic as hell as they steam through a fearless 'No More Heroes' wherein the ridiculously nonchalent Greenfield peels off a note-perfect solo with one hand as he drains the contents of his drink. He proceeds to flick the plastic container to Warne, who heads it to JJ, who promptly kicks it off the stage without missing a beat. Fucking hell. If you needed any further proof that The Stranglers have no intention of capitulating to history, well that's it personified.

Indeed, you really would be a fool to bet against The Stranglers continuing to surprise the scorers for some time to come yet. Their new Greatest Hits album '4240' and this high-octane live tour of duty may suggest a line being drawn under their past, but while The Men In Black continue to fire on all cylinders and snub the ravages of time this gloriously, then they're still in contention. Consider yourself duly warned.


  author: Tim Peacock / Photos: Kate Fox

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READERS COMMENTS    9 comments still available (max 10)    [Click here to add your own comments]

OOHH..Bet this was a mega nite!! Dead good reading this though - nice one Tim and Kate!! (That all-time bass sound is proper classic noise, sends me every time!)
------------- Author: Mabs   27 October 2008

STRANGLERS, THE / STARBASE 109 - Cambridge, Corn Exchange, 18th October 2008
STRANGLERS, THE / STARBASE 109 - Cambridge, Corn Exchange, 18th October 2008
STRANGLERS, THE / STARBASE 109 - Cambridge, Corn Exchange, 18th October 2008