The Spartan Warriors of Punk will never surrender.
When Ruts DC sang “We’ll never surrender!” during the inestimable Staring At The Rude Boys, they were neatly summing up the entire evening and the sold out tour of which it was a part.
The Stranglers and Ruts DC, both stalwarts of the Punk scene have been out on the road this past month to prove that neither they, nor us, have any intention of surrendering. Both bands forged an inseparable bond with this music-mad city in the crucible of Eric’s many years ago when Punk was still in its youth and all too readily dismissed as a passing phase that surely would die out by too many trigger-happy commentators. Well, it didn’t die out and the annual clamour for tickets for this spring tour proves that the legacy is forever secure. Never surrender, onstage or off it. All very appropriate in this clamouring and claustrophobic venue, rammed to the rafters and doing a very passable impression of a latter-day, enlarged Eric’s. It is an amphitheatre for the ‘People’s Champions’ to parade their skill and courage.
Ruts DC are an inspired choice for the support slot as they released the best British album in 2016, the storming Music Must Destroy and that forms the backbone of the set list tonight. Kicking off with Vox Teardrop, which chronicles the triumphs and tragedies in the story of the band, you are immediately struck by the chemistry of this line up. Dave Ruffy, the master-drummer, sets a rattling pace for the pyrotechnics of Segs on bass and vocals and local boy Leigh Heggarty on a searing guitar. Watch them closely and you see that, despite the frantic nature of the songs, these are master-craftsmen at work, with every note measured and quality assured before delivery. They are dapper and dynamic and the growing crowd in the amphitheatre are roaring their approval.
Mighty Soldier and Jah War are stirring evidence of the Punk-Reggae crossover that was always evident and that no one did better than The Ruts and West One (Shine on Me), a meditation on isolation, still has the capacity to tear at the heartstrings. However, it is the new tracks that really hit home as a reminder of the class of this band. Surprise, Music Must Destroy and recent single Kill The Pain demonstrate their continued relevance and talent. Arguably, Staring At The Rude Boys captures the political infiltration of the late ‘70’s youth movements better than any other song and remains pertinent today. A set closing trio of Babylon’s Burning, Psychic Attack and Society was the perfect finale and scene setter for The Stranglers who we are assured by Dave Ruffy “will smash it tonight”.
JJ Burnell recently said that a band gets the fans it deserves and that is certainly true of The Stranglers. They are out in force tonight in a room that, in all honesty, the band have probably outgrown. That’s not the point however as the band love playing here, they know it will be a sweat-soaked stormer, and the city of Liverpool certainly loves welcoming them back. The moment when the lights dim and Waltzinblack fills the room is a spine-tingler like no other and as the band take the stage the roar of welcome could blow any ferry across the Mersey.
Such is their level of performance nowadays; it really doesn’t matter what songs The Stranglers choose to play but this year’s set-list really does showcase all their finest qualities. The Nordic supremacy of The Raven is a suitable starting point for this voyage with its metronomic basslines and minimalist riffs. Twin Rattus offerings, Sometimes and Grip, are going to start a fire in any audience and tonight is no different.
Nice ‘n’ Sleazy and Peaches are delivered with the familiar grinding, irresistible bass while the communal sing-along with Hanging Around has the building shaking. However, a few songs really strike a chord tonight, most notably Bear Cage which seems to have been re-born on steroids as it goes very close to pinning you to the back wall. Genetix has always made me think of Jet Black as it was the track he often chose to play during his brief cameo appearances before retirement became inevitable, for the simple reason that the drum parts are so complex yet he made it look easy. Performed tonight in characteristic style where all band members seem to be playing simultaneous solos, Jim Macaulay really shows why he is the ideal replacement for the great man.
Relentless and 15 Steps are reminders of the strength of the band’s newer material and the fact that the writing of a new album is ironically being hindered by the demand for live performances which is preventing the band from focusing on new material. But then you stand back and admire the sheer perfection of Down in the Sewer, complete with freestyle crowd surfing and ask yourself how the band can take time off from touring when their performances mean so much to so many people?
The room has turned into the sweat pit we knew it would. There’s even a puddle on the stage that reminds JJ of days at Eric’s. The reception is rapturous and what the band and audience knew they would receive. It’s fully deserved as no performance by this band is anything less than excellent.
The Stranglers are the people’s champions, the Spartan Warriors of the Punk movement, unbroken and unbeatable. They will never surrender and neither will we
All words by Dave Jennings: Twitter @blackfoxwrexham Facebook
Pictures are from the Brighton gig and are courtesy of Jamie McMillan. Visit his website to see more superb shots.