Friday, June 7, 2013

DVD Review: The Stranglers: On Stage, On Screen

 Text © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2013
Images from the Internet

The Stranglers: On Stage, On Screen
Directed by Robin Bextor
New Wave Pictures
Weinerworld Productions
108 minutes, 2005-06 / 2012

In the U.K., Celia and the Mutations… I mean The Stranglers were huge. Numerous Top 10 singles and albums line their history. Here in the States, however, nada. They were never able to break the chart barrier, and I believe it was more because of reputation than the music itself.

Though they predated the British punk scene, they were wrongly (in my opinion) lumped in with that lot. Surely they were some amalgamation of pub rock with a twist. But even in Wikipedia, the first sentence states: “The Stranglers are an English punk rock music group.” I still beg to differ.

But while their music was not punk, their attitudes may be considered as such (when I interviewed the Cramps, then-drummer Miriam Linna insisted that the Ramones were not punk rock, but they personally were punks, meant as a compliment). I remember in the ‘70s, hearing about the Stranglers’ rowdiness, sexist lyrics, and the football mentality of their fans (chanting jocks is how they may be described on this side of the pond). Even on this DVD, the fans are on full furl.

But over time, as their singles and records began to disappear from the punk bins in stores here, apparently they started sliding into the pop range, which means I wouldn’t have paid attention to them anyway. Yet, I still have a couple of their earliest LPs and 45s.

That being said, let’s discuss the disk at hand. Originally released as Norfolk Coast Live in “Jolly Ole,” there are two segments to this concert, recorded at Shepherds Bush Empire, London, on December 2, 2005, and presented in the wrong order. The first listed is called “The Electric Set” at nearly 80 minutes, and the second is “The Acoustic Set,” coming in at just under 30 minutes. Thing is, the acoustic set was the opening for the show. Thereby if you want the true concert experience, watch the acoustic first. Here the band plays some softer, balladry tunes that are quite lovely at times, including “Tucker’s Grave” and their infamous “Strange Little Girl” (once covered by Tori Amos, who named her album after the song).

It really kicks into high gear with the loud and yet highly melodic electric set, which covered the then new album, Norfolk Coast (hence the original name of the concert), mixed with some of their fine, older material, such as their covers of the Kinks’ “All Day and All of the Night” and Burt Bacharach’s “Walk on By.” Their oldies but goodies include “Peaches” (of course), “Tank,” and their breakthrough “No More Heroes.” Hugh Cromwell may be well and gone, but he is barely missed as this version of the Stranglers is strong.

When it came to some of the ‘80s stuff, I struggled a bit, as I find it a bit cutesy (to be fair, I felt that way about a lot of music through the now-beloved-by-many era of over-processed sounds; oy>, that ‘80s electronic drum sound that still makes me squirm). I would like to add that adding Paul Roberts to the band was a good idea. He has a powerful stage presence (and I know of a couple of people of both genders who would be impressed by his six-pack).

So, even though there are periods of the Stranglers that are represented here that I would not have even raised an eyebrow about in their time of release, the band brings it around in a way that’s palpable for, yes, the punk in my heart.

The last thing on this DVD, and probably the reason for its rerelease is the inclusion of a short 18-minute film from 2006, titled Norwalk Coast, of course. It’s an intense film starring Jean Jacques Burnel (with most of the rest of the band in cameos, and on the soundtrack). It also has a bit part by Susannah York, who easily would have been in the “Most Beautiful” issue of People, if it existed back in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. It’s a somewhat depressing tale of ritual murder, suicide and revenge. Jean does a great job.

The Strangers continues to tour, even with their nearly 75 year old drummer (the rest of the band are 20 years or more his junior). Hopefully they keep their power, even with the loss of Roberts on vocals since he quite not long after this disk was recorded. Luckily, they have this for when he was in his Stranglers’ prime.

Jean Jacques Burnel: bass / vox
Jet Black: drums
Dave Greenfield: keyboards
Paul Roberts: vox / percussion
Baz Warne: guitar / vox

Electric Set (79 min):
Norfolk Coast
All Day and All of the Night
Death and Night and Blood
Big Thing Coming
Skin Deep
Always the Sun
Long Black Veil
I’ve Been Wild
Lost Control
Goodbye Toulouse
Summat Outanowt
Walk on By
Burning Up Time\
Toiler on the Sea
Time to Die
Mine All Mine
No More Heroes

Acoustic Set (29 min):
Instead of This
Southern Mountains
Dutch Moon
Tucker’s Grave
Strange Little Girl
Sanfie Kiss
Still Life

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