The Stranglers, Roundhouse, London

Nick Hasted
Tuesday 06 November 2007 01:00

"It's even worse than the old days," Jean-Jacques Burnel decides with weary humour, as The Stranglers shudder to a halt for a second time. Tonight is supposed to be historic, returning to the Roundhouse 30 years to the day since they last played it, at the start of their careers and of a punk movement in which they were largely pariahs. The set-list is to be 1977 only. But when Dave Greenfield's Hammond conks out eight songs in, The Stranglers decide, mindful of a DVD being filmed, to replay the whole gig. Then the keyboard blows again...

Their singer and chief songwriter Hugh Cornwell left in 1990, of course, but the fans packed in tonight don't care. The surly riff of "No More Heroes" sets off what soon becomes a rolling, pogoing scrum. One punk's needle-sharp spiked hair melts in the mêlée, from which casualties stagger to safety. "He got an icepick – that made his ears burn," The Stranglers' current singer-guitarist Baz Warne says, sneeringly, of Leon Trotsky, and all seems thrillingly well.

The Stranglers soon turn their attention to the many misogynist moments on their 1977 albums Rattus Norvegicus and No More Heroes, which provoked a full-scale feminist debate in NME at the time and left them beyond the pale for some. "Ugly" and "Bring on the Nubiles" are relatively harmless. The voyeurism of "Peaches" is end-of-the-pier. "Sometimes", with lines like "beat you, honey, till you drop", inspired by an incident in which Cornwell hit a girlfriend, is harder to swallow. With Greenfield's keyboard as ominous counterpoint, the objectionable theme seems to fuel Warne's aggression.

When the organ dies, kicking back in with "No More Heroes" sensibly regains momentum, but as the next seven songs are replayed too (with another break for running repairs), it's hard to focus. Greenfield's organ does sound more heavily fluttering and stereoscopic than normal, it's true, with a weird bit of skeletal dub on "Dead Ringer". "Hangin' Around" is lower-league prog as much as punk, but there's a thuggish roll and stab to their music elsewhere.

Their detractors' uneasiness is recalled when "I Feel Like a Wog" sees Warne get into the misanthropic meat of the old song, though, if its offensive words are still there, I don't hear them. Those battles are over, anyway. Cornwell, the man who provoked them, and the way he felt, are long gone.

Singing along to the ripely reflective "(Get a) Grip (on Yourself)", and chanting the 64-year-old drummer Jet Black's name as if he's just scored at Wembley, is the point now. Today's Stranglers provide a fun, punk night out for all the family.

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