The Saints, Borderline, London <!-- none onestar twostar threestar fourstar fivestar -->

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The Independent Culture

It is 40 years since "I'm Stranded" sent London record company executives scurrying to Brisbane to sign The Saints. Even amid the explosion of punk, the way singer Chris Bailey and guitarist Ed Kuepper melded slab-sided rock'n'roll to sensitive lyrics and ace tunes was something special. After a clutch of fabulous records, the original line-up fell apart but thanks to Bailey, his glorious songs, and a succession of different musicians, The Saints continued, periodically exploring their leader's quieter side but always returning to riffs and volume.

It's the noisy side of the man that's the meat and drink of their new album, Imperious Delirium, released the day they play this gig. Most bands would take the opportunity to run through the whole thing, but there are too many gems in The Saints' back catalogue. This is underlined by the fact that Imperious Delirium isn't the only Saints release that day. The second four-CD box-set of their early albums is also out, curiously titled The Greatest Cowboy Movie Never Made, which documents Bailey's thrilling post-Kuepper journey to the classic "Ghost Ships".

The Saints are now a three-piece and, while there are moments you feel an extra guitar would fill out the sound, it's obvious that Bailey, bassist Caspar Wijnberg and drummer Peter Wilkinson are happy this way. They play a slowish "Stranded", but that doesn't deter the residual punks at the front of the audience. Yet The Saints were never really punk. They were, and still are, deceptively intelligent garage-rock.

The new album's opener "Drunk in Babylon" follows, its lyrics typical Bailey: "Biting the hand from which I'm fed/ Cursing the places I've been led/ Lying down with the lion and lamb/ Lounging in the lion's den"; a potent mixture of alcohol, religious imagery and a glorying in world-weariness.

As befits the opening night of a tour, they're a little loose. But you can forgive Bailey, slouching around the stage with a wry grin under his unkempt long hair, pretty much anything when what seems like an inter-song dabble on the guitar turns into the anthem to teenage angst from their very first album, "Messin' With The Kid".

The most magical moment of the evening is Bailey alone, acoustic in hand, playing "Massacre", from 1990's Prodigal Son. "Can that be all there is... no signs of life on this empty stage... the ruins of a passing parade?". Thankfully there are more than just signs of life from The Saints. This version, with a peerless back-catalogue and a great new album, is in rude health.

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