THE STRANGLERS / THE ALARM | LIVE REVIEW
Great Hall, Cardiff University Students Union, Fri 18 Mar
The Stranglers have always prided themselves on their uncompromising approach to sticking to their ideals. Perhaps this proved to be their undoing at Cardiff University with a gig that left all but the purists feeling both underwhelmed and unfulfilled.
This year’s tour finds the quartet reeling off their 1978 album Black And White in its entirety, which was always going to be a bit risky as it’s not their most commercial sounding or instantly recognisable work. Nevertheless, the band remains a tight live unit and pull off each number with aplomb. Yet whilst the devotees in the sweaty squash at the crash barrier hang on every word and revel in every riff, the rest of us casual fans are left wondering when the hits will finally arrive. During lesser known tracks, half the Hall chatters amongst themselves and heads for the bar. Perhaps justifiably, there’s surprisingly little audience interaction from the band in return.
Regardless, Welsh rockers The Alarm are an inspired choice to warm up the Cardiff crowd. The ever-affable Mike Peters is a commanding presence throughout a frenetic 40-minute set, highlights of which include the raucous anthems of 68 Guns and Spirit Of ‘76. Peters is arguably at his best when he pulls on the heartstrings, though, and it’s his moving acoustic ballad Poppy Fields that provides the most intriguing moment.
Sadly, the bond Peters develops with the hometown crowd combined with the energy in the room after The Alarm’s performance quickly dissipates once The Stranglers emerge onstage. That’s the problem with these album retrospective gigs compared to ‘normal’ setlists – the sprinkling of a hit isn’t necessarily there to sustain the lesser-known songs.
Hence, the early inclusion of fan favourite Nice ’n’ Sleazy is lost amongst a subsequent barrage of album tracks. The atmosphere noticeably changes in the set’s second half with the quick-fire double-header of (Get A) Grip (On Yourself) and Walk On By. But those expecting the inevitable landslide of hits were still left slightly short-changed as just as many curveballs and curios were thrown in.
You can’t really blame the band for being sick to the back teeth of performing a song like Golden Brown when it’s been a staple of tours ever since it was released in 1981. Yet, it’s what the punters pay to hear and it’s strangely omitted, along with the likes of Duchess, Hanging Around, Skin Deep and Who Wants The World?.
The Stranglers do ensure the gig ends on a euphoric high, with Always The Sun, Peaches and No More Heroes all delivered in the final 30 minutes. But after two hours and a couple of encores, it was a long wait for the hits.
words NEIL COLLINS photos JON HERRON