Gig Review: The Stranglers at Manchester’s O2 Apollo

Legendary rockers The Stranglers showed their timeless energy as they celebrated 50 years together by performing an unforgettable two-and-a-half-hour set to a sold-out Manchester crowd.

Whilst the group has undergone many iterations and produced a variety of albums hitting different genres, the group remained as popular as ever by captivating three generations of fans in their 19-album catalogue.

Originating from Guildford, the band grew in popularity during the Post-Punk era of the 70s but have since transcended the boundaries of their genres, with their idiosyncratic approach meaning they explored New Wave, Art Rock and Gothic Rock during their five-decade tenure.

Their ability to dabble in numerous genres was notable through keyboardist, Dave Greenfield, who passed away in 2020. Whether that be the melodic hook, moody organs or a captivating keys solo, his presence was undeniably massive within the group

But original bassist Jean-Jaques Burnel, along with Baz Warne, Jim Macaulay and Toby Hounsham, have successfully carried the flame for the band and controlled the stage of Ardwick’s art deco Apollo to 3500 adoring rockers with ease. 

The band has been infamous for off-stage dramatics, including being thrown out of Sweden twice, brawls and gaffer-taping a journalist to the Eiffel Tower, but this performance showed they’ve matured from their early years and put their breadth of experience to good use. 

The set consisted of 28 songs, and the quartet masterfully navigated through 14 of their albums, including Hallow To Their Men, performed for the first time since 1981.

Chants erupted around the venue as those in attendance were desperate for The Stranglers to take the stage. 

When they did, the group donned head to toe in black as they prepared for their first set. The only group worthy of supporting them is The Stramglers themselves.

Formed in Guildford, The Stranglers celebrate their 50th anniversary with a nationwide tour.

Whilst there was little talking between each song, they do have to get through 28 songs, Burnel took the time to dedicate the third song of the set, The Raven, to former drummer Jet Black and Greenfield. 

Even though this song was the only one specifically dedicated to the former band members who have passed, the whole evening felt that it was performed for those members; as without them, a five-decade history wouldn’t have been achievable.

Their electrifying energy made performing this hefty show a breeze as they performed all of their timeless classics alongside their obscure back catalogue, which doesn’t often get heard. 

Regardless of whether it was a current track or one from 40 years ago, the consistency within the performance came from Burnel’s sensational bass playing, which coursed through all the tracks. The way he can manufacture the bass is pretty remarkable. It is no wonder he has been a highly-regarded musician for so long. 

Bassist Jean-Jaques Burnel is the only remaining original member from the post-punk outfit.

The commanding and powerful performance from the frontman was laid down through his sensational guitar solo throughout Princess of the Streets, layered with his gravelly voice, which effortlessly carried throughout the venue. 

But the crowd control during Breathe from their most recent album, which topped off the first set and firmly placed the Apollo under the spell of the quartet. 

This was reaffirmed all the more apparent after moving into the fan favourite, Hanging Around, from their second release in 1977. This managed to recapture the crowd after playing more obscure hits, which garnered the biggest cheer from the audience. 

After returning to the stage for a second time, they ensured those in attendance were not left desiring more, as it was a consistent stream of banger after banger. 

There were euphoric chats of ‘God Forbid’, which were constant throughout Duchess and rang around the cavernous venue. 

The Stranglers took to the stage to perform their second set, which consisted of some of their biggest tracks.

The rampant display continued when the band performed Skin Deep. The Mancunian crowd were barely given a moment to breathe as we were plunged straight into Always The Sun. The crowd, in unison, bellowed the chorus back to the legendary punk-rockers.

The audience was then teased with the distinct harpsichord melody to Golden Brown. The crowd briefly braced themselves for what was guaranteed to be the best performance of the night, and to no surprise, it captured the excitement of everyone in the venue.

Whilst they may have mellowed and matured since their formation, their immature tendencies still rang true after the lead singer Warne provoked those standing in the Apollo by branding them ‘lazy bastards’ before pointing to those standing stating ‘These are where the real fans are’, which was swiftly followed with a mixture of boos and cheers. 

In true Stranglers fashion, their set concluded with No More Heroes, and the feel-good anthem fitting concluded the show, with a band showing they haven’t lost that touch to enthral an audience after so many years.

A band which has stood the test of time allowed the Mancs to revel in their history with them with this mammoth setlist. But this wasn’t a band who had just survived, as they laid down a stamp of authority of why they’re one of the greatest bands from the Post-Punk era. They’ve aged like fine wine. 

The only thing left to address was Warne closing off with: “See you in another 50 years.”

And those who experienced this masterclass hope that is the case. 

Photo credits: Finn Toal

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