The Stranglers & Jon Toogood, Auckland Town Hall, 15 April 2023

The Stranglers

The Stranglers (or a Strangler) performed at Auckland’s Town Hall last night. The 13th Floor’s Simon Coffey and Leonie Moreland were on the scene!

Once, you could’ve said seeing The Stranglers in Aotearoa/New Zealand was boasting ammo, but given the frequency of their visits to Aotearoa since the 2000s, it seems to experience The Stranglers live is no longer a personal taonga (rarity). Sadly though, the The Stranglersband’s line-up has steadily become fluid, with the ravages of time (or egos) depriving the band of founding members to where now with the passing of Jet Black in 2022, only JJ Burnell remains from the pre-1990’s make-up of The Stranglers. In 2023, they are; Jean-Jacques Burnel (since 1974), Baz Warne (since 2000), Jim Macaulay (since 2018) and Toby Hounsham (since 2021)

Tonight’s show is part of The Stranglers ‘final and last-ever tour’, and they have promised to play a set dominated by crowd favourites, but also significant is that Dave Greenfield’s last concert with the band was on 15 February 2020 in this very same venue

Jon Toogood
Jon Toogood

With a hiss, a roar and teddy bear, Jon Toogood waltzes onstage, looking like a burn-out from Brunswick and falls off the stage (true!) After 20 years in Melbourne the Shihad Jon Toogoodfrontman now lives in Howick, where he has been inspired to write new material (how is it possible to get inspired in Howick I ask?) for ‘both of his bands’.

Not injured, well not physically, maybe his pride a little, his expletives ridden and chatty 30-minute set, is a hotchpotch of new songs, Pacifier, Shihad, and classic kiwi rock anthems The Exponents’ Victoria, Split Enz I Got You and The Dudes’ Bliss. The crowd lap it up, reveling in a classic middle Aotearoan manner. I get it, I know what you did there Jon Toogood.

The StranglersThe Stranglers

Not unexpectedly, the theme to Waltz in Black announces the imminent arrival of the men in black on stage, cueing a shuffling of feet downstairs, and a mad rush of mid-life stragglers from the bars. The Stranglers start with Water from their most recent (and it could possibly be the last Stranglers album) Dark Matters (2021) almost as a sound-check, but when they blast through the Duchess (Raven 1979) and Sometimes (Rattus Norvegicus 1977) the crowd in the ⅚ full hall get energised too.

The StranglersBut it is when their unofficial sing-a-long anthem Always The Sun (Dreamtime 1986) is followed back to back by Skin Deep (Aural Sculpture 1984) that the crowd of post-post-punks and Hauraki/The Rock listeners get their groove on and their singing voices out.

The sound in The Tamaki Makaurau Great Hall is notoriously hard to get just right, I’ve seen The Stranglers twice previously here, and both times their performances were marred by lousy sound. But tonight, it it pretty spot on (if you excuse the issues that Keyboardist Toby Hounsham was having early on, and the slightly low in-the-mix bass)

Tonight’s setlist of about 25 songs is as promised a catalogue of greatest Stranglers songs, from 1974 all the way through to their LAST album in 2021. But it is easy to deduce that the crowd are here for the classic songs, there are post-Hugh Cornwell jumping ship compositions scattered throughout, and it’s noticeable the divergence between the two periods.

The Stranglers

 

Vocalist/Guitarist Baz Warne shines during songs like Golden Brown (La folie 1981) when not one but two guitars fail on, him, but like a professional footballer, like, he plays on through, and the band create an extended version, while JJ Burnel is having a laugh down the other end of the stage, a truly unique live moment.

Not all the renditions are on point, sadly Walk on By (The Stranglers 1978) is a little flat, but the inclusion of Nuclear Device (Raven 1979) and the aforementioned Skin Deep (Aural Sculpture 1984) both not played in Wellington the previous night more than makes up the Opaqueness. As the night entered the final curtain the Ménage à trois of Something Better Change (No More Heroes 1977) Hanging Around (Rattus Norvegicus 1977) and a personal favourite Tank (Black and White 1978) is an extended, thunderous moment(s) of nostalgia.

The Stranglers
 Encore 1

JJ and Baz return to the stage with acoustic guitars, seated and play two play tunes from Dark Matters (2021) The Lines and then a song about Dave Greenfield ,,,and if you should see Dave… The Stranglers were never a ‘political’ band, and it was common knowledge that they were more likely to play a Conservative Party conference than a Rock Against Racism Festival. But JJ’s Covid misinformation rant is off-putting, it’s selfish preaching, it is the type of preaching that they slammed fellow musicians for doing in the 20th century.

 Encore 2

All is forgiven as JJ Burnell talks about the band’s roots. Pubs, “All the best bands played pubs” and they play Go Buddy Go (b-side of Peaches 7” 1977) a pub rock rockabilly tune from their formative years. The last is the loudest, as the crowd becomes The Stranglers choir boys and girls as the finish on No More Heroes (No More Heroes 1977).

The Stranglers

 The Stranglers have been hangin’ (hung) around for almost 50 years, and the question of being categorised still dogs them. Are they pub rock, punk rock, post-punk, new wave or a rock-pop? From their first single in 1977 (Get A) Grip (On Yourself), through 1981’s Golden Brown, onto the anthemic Always the Sun of 1986 and the brilliant revisioning of 96 Tears in 1990 The Stranglers have stayed ahead in the game, playing as a team, so no matter the players, the team always win, and tonight, once again they put points on the scoreboard. Salute!

Simon Coffey

Click any icon to view a full gallery of photos from each artist. All photos by Leonie Moreland.

The Stranglers
Jon Toogood
Simon Coffey