THE STRANGLERS + RUTS DC – BRIGHTON DOME 17.2.22
Formed in Guildford in 1974, The Stranglers started out as regulars on the London pub-rock circuit. With an uncompromising attitude and energetic live shows, they soon became associated with the burgeoning punk movement. Older and more musically accomplished than many of their contemporaries, their sound continued to evolve over 18 studio albums and a string of chart hits including ‘Peaches’, ‘No More Heroes’ and ’Golden Brown’. There have been lineup changes over the years, but the band remains one of the longest-lasting and best-loved acts to come out of the UK punk scene.
A lot has happened since the original announcement of their “Final Full Tour” in January 2020. Although not quitting completely, this celebration of a career spanning over 45 years was to be the last extensive full-production tour. The global pandemic brought an enforced hiatus to live music, and in May of that year the awful news emerged that keyboard player Dave Greenfield, originally from Brighton, had died after contracting covid-19 while in hospital for treatment of a heart condition. The remaining band members resolved to carry on and complete the album they had begun recording with Dave, and to play the tour in his memory. ‘Dark Matters’ was released, to much critical acclaim, in September 2021, and reached number four in the UK Album Charts, their highest placing for many years. The tour, twice rescheduled, finally rolls into Dave’s home town of Brighton tonight.
The Brighton Dome has a well-practised system of ticket and vaccination-status checks. I’ve got the NHS app open ready on my phone and breeze through in plenty of time to get to the front ready for the first band. The place is absolutely buzzing.
Opening tonight are Ruts DC, another cherished band from the new wave era. As The Ruts, they produced a string of highly regarded singles including the UK Top 10 hit ‘Babylon’s Burning’. Their 1979 debut album ‘The Crack’ is widely acknowledged as a classic. Shaken by the untimely death of singer Malcolm Owen in 1980, the remaining members continued for a few years as Ruts DC (DC standing for “da capo”, an Italian music term meaning “back to the beginning”). They reconvened in 2007, originally to play a benefit for guitarist Paul Fox, who was unwell with cancer and died later that year. The current lineup is a three-piece, with guitarist Leigh Heggarty joining bassist Segs Jennings and drummer Dave Ruffy, and the band continues to release new material and has established a well-earned reputation as a formidable live act.
The backline amps stand ready, badged with The Ruts’ logo on the bass cab, house right, and Ruts DC on the guitar stack house left. The band emerges to a loud cheer.
“You’re going to be joined by loads of people from the bar, as soon as they hear the first tune,” quips Segs. The auditorium seems pretty full already, but the urgent opening riff of ‘Something That I Said’ will doubtless finish the job. Black clad Leigh, in trilby hat and shades, thrashes those familiar chords on a matching black Les Paul. Segs is looking sharp in a dark suit and fedora, and I suspect the road worn finish of his Precision bass might come from actual use, rather than the custom shop. Dave Ruffy dispatches breathtakingly fast rolls around the toms of his Gretsch kit with an ease and fluidity born of long experience.
It’s clear straight away we’re in for a treat, and ‘S.U.S.’ sounds awesomely massive. Segs delivers an engaging performance whilst simultaneously pumping out a thunderous low end over the insistent beat. During the dubby instrumental breakdown he shuffles gracefully across the stage while the guitar gets busy. No whammy bar? No problem, as Leigh achieves a satisfying vibrato effect by yanking on the headstock.
The set progresses, and every song’s a winner. ‘Kill The Pain’, from the 2016 album ‘Music Must Destroy’ easily holds its own amongst the earlier material, and the magnificent ‘West One (Shine On Me)’, the final single with Malcolm Owen, sounds as heart-wrenchingly sublime today as it did in 1980. We’re bang up to date with an impressive new number ‘Born Innocent’, whose sparkling guitar arpeggios shimmer above a slow and super-heavy bass groove. The vocal outro sums up the vibe: “Hate nobody. Hurt nobody. Harm nobody.”
Thursday night is skanking night, apparently, and we’re into the infectiously brisk reggae lollop of ‘Jah War’. “Got a riff?” Segs enquires of Leigh, who responds with the intro to the blistering ‘Staring At The Rude Boys’. It’s not easy to follow that, but with ‘In A Rut’ and ‘Babylon’s Burning’ still in the locker, we’re moving up through the gears. The later culminates with some aesthetically pleasing formation crouching in front of the drum kit. The final number of this brief but perfectly formed set is ‘Psychic Attack’, another from ‘Music Must Destroy’. Dave has the ubiquitous trigger pad favoured by many drummers these days, and launches a big sonic swirl of samples to overlay the urgent beat. Super-tight stops and howling lead guitar punctuate this excellent set closer.
I’ve seen Ruts DC many times, and I’m always blown away by their measuredly powerful performance, and the sheer quality of the material. If you get the chance to catch them live, I strongly recommend you check them out.
John ‘Segs’ Jennings – vocal/bass
Leigh Heggarty – guitar/vocals
Dave Ruffy – drums/vocals
Ruts DC setlist:
‘Something That I Said’, ‘S.U.S.’, ‘You’re Just A …’, ‘It Was Cold’, ‘Kill The Pain’, ‘West One (Shine On Me)’, ‘Born Innocent’, ‘Jah War’, ‘Staring at the Rude Boys’, ‘In a Rut’, ‘Babylon’s Burning’, ‘Psychic Attack’
Find out more about Ruts DC HERE.
A small army of technicians are busily preparing the stage for the main event. The keyboards, in a three-tier stack similar to Dave’s old configuration, are perched on a precipitously high riser house right, with Jim’s drum kit on a matching platform house left. The edges and steps are lined with lighting tubes, and there are huge fixtures on tall stands to augment the usual arrays of par cans on the ceiling grids. The massive backdrop and front kick drum skin feature the band logo against the starry sky of the ‘Dark Matters’ sleeve.
The recorded intro music is the haunting instrumental ‘Waltzinblack’, which traditionally heralds the arrival on stage of The Stranglers. The lighting bursts into a vast red wash, and JJ and Baz unleash the urgently rumbling bass and twanging guitar stabs of ‘Toiler On The Sea’, personally my favourite number from this band’s enormous canon of work. New recruit Toby Hounsham, with swept back hair and blue-lensed shades, has the daunting task of reproducing Dave Greenfield’s iconic keyboard parts. Of course he handles this with aplomb, not a note out of place, although there seem to be some technical issues with his in-ear monitors that necessitate the close attention of one of the stage techs throughout the song. Jim Macaulay’s drumming is thumpingly powerful and lightning fast. He sports a beard in an apparent nod to his illustrious predecessor, Jet Black. House right is singer and guitarist Baz Warne, a distinctive figure with a shaved head and a black Telecaster. House left, playing a black Shuker bass, is Jean-Jacques Burnel, the last remaining member from the famed 1970s lineup. He looks trim and fit, in defiance of the passage of time, and intermittently fires off his trademark leg kicks, and brief shimmies of running on the spot. Needless to say, all the players are clad entirely in black, in keeping with the long-established band look.
They blast on through ‘Something Better Change’ and ‘Sometimes’, two early numbers that exemplify the urgency and confrontational attitude that originally made them famous. The packed crowd responds by getting an impressive bounce on, and there is much chanting along and punching the air. Toby’s fingers are dancing across the keys replicating those incredibly busy runs, despite his ongoing monitoring issue requiring further attention from the crew.
Sunderland born Baz addresses the crowd in his broad Mackem accent: “You can understand what I’m saying, can’t you?” This raises much hilarity. Having been in the band for well over twenty years now, the guitarist is particularly adept at working the room. To warm applause he introduces Toby, who begins the opening keyboard swirl of ‘Water’, from the current album.
It’s good to hear ‘Skin Deep’ again, and there’s a bit more banter with the crowd as further work is carried out in an effort to restore the link between Toby and his monitor mix. Baz has noticed that a lot of people are smoking out on the streets in Brighton.
“They’re not cigarettes,” advises JJ, with a conspiratorial wink.
“Jazz Woodbines…” nods Baz. “That’ll explain the clothing choices then.”
The set continues with ‘This Song’, a standout track from the current album, and the staccato guitar stabs of the epic ‘Nice ’n’ Sleazy’. There’s beautiful keyboard in the slower paced ‘Don’t Bring Harry’, with JJ letting the bass hang at his side whilst delivering the mournfully lugubrious vocal. Lush synth leads the way through 1980s hits ‘Strange Little Girl’ and ‘Always The Sun’, and talking of hits, here’s ‘Peaches’. Baz has adapted the lyric slightly, to be topical: “I can think of a lot worse places to be… like down in the streets, or down in the sewer, or in 10 f*cking Downing Street!”
Biggest hit of all, ‘Golden Brown’ gets a massive cheer, and the lighting, which has been vividly spectacular throughout, adopts an appropriate hue. Baz sings with his guitar flipped so the strings face downwards, flipping it back to play the haunting solo. He has a change of guitar for ‘The Last Men On The Moon’, a red and white Burns providing plenty of twang for this slab of cosmic surf music. The vocal is heavily processed with a vocoder style effect.
‘Grip’ and ‘Curfew’ are classic stompers, the latter’s lyrics sounding like they fit alarmingly well with the current geopolitical mood (“The men from the steppes delivered their vacuum…”). ‘White Stallion’ is a soaringly expansive piece of pomp rock from the current album, and sounds frankly magnificent.
I’m pleased that the traditional chants of “Bruce!” and “Sheila!” still accompany live renditions of ‘Nuclear Device’. The cover of ‘Walk On By’ is beautifully played, its meandering Doors-like instrumental another highlight of this outstanding set. JJ has lost none of his speed up and down the fretboard, with the closing bass run of ‘Straighten Out’ as frenetically brilliant as ever. Toby’s kept busy with the brisk keyboard lines of ‘Duchess’, while ‘Hanging Around’, the closing number of the main set, sounds as sleazily menacing as it ever did. The band leaves the stage to enthusiastic applause, and the crew scurry on with two high stools and some appropriate adjustment of the mic stands.
JJ and Baz return with acoustic and semi-acoustic guitars, respectively, to play ‘Lines’, from ‘Dark Matters’. It’s a charming song about the process of ageing, and I can certainly relate to the lyric.
Despite the excitement of the show, it’s impossible to forget that it’s in memory of Dave. JJ gives a touching tribute.
“When you’ve known someone for 45 years, and you’ve loved them and worked with them for that much time…it leaves a big hole in life…” They play ‘And If You Should See Dave’, a heartrendingly poignant track from the latest album. At the point in the song with the lyric “and this is where your solo would go”, the crowd breaks into prolonged spontaneous applause, which is a real lump-in-the-throat moment.
The rest of the band return for two further encores, both early classics. I can’t tell you much about ‘Go Buddy Go’ or ‘No More Heroes’ because I’m too busy dancing, although I have to smile as JJ ascends the stairs to play the iconic bass intro to the final number, with each step lighting up as he treads on it.
What a night! Is this really the last tour? I’m not convinced. Why would a band on such blistering form want to stop playing? Time will tell, and whether this is the beginning of the end, or just the end of the beginning, I’m very glad I was here to see it.
Baz Warne – vocals/guitar
Jean-Jacques Burnel – vocals/bass
Toby Hounsham – keyboards/vocals
Jim Macaulay – drums/vocals
The Stranglers setlist:
‘Toiler On The Sea’ (from ‘Black And White’ 1978)
‘Something Better Change’ (from ‘No More Heroes’ 1977)
‘Sometimes’ (from ‘Rattus Norvegicus’ 1977)
‘Water’ (from ‘Dark Matters’ 2021)
‘Skin Deep’ (from ‘Aural Sculpture’ 1984)
‘This Song Will Get Me Over You’ (Disciples of Spess cover – from ‘Dark Matters’ 2021)
‘Nice ‘n’ Sleazy’ (from ’Black and White’ 1978)
‘Don’t Bring Harry’ (from ‘The Raven’ 1979)
‘Strange Little Girl’ (single, 1982)
‘Always The Sun’ (from ‘Dreamtime’ 1986)
‘Peaches’ (from ‘Rattus Norvegicus’ 1977)
‘Golden Brown’ (from ‘La Folie’ 1981)
‘The Last Men On The Moon’ (from ‘Dark Matters’ 2021)
‘(Get A) Grip (On Yourself)’ ( from ‘Rattus Norvegicus’ 1977)
‘Curfew’ (from ‘Black And White’ 1978)
‘White Stallion’ (from ‘Dark Matters’ 2021)
‘Nuclear Device’ (from ‘The Raven’ 1979)
‘Relentless’ (from ‘Suite XVI’ 2006)
‘Walk On By’ (Burt Bacharach cover – bonus single with ‘Black And White’ 1978)
‘Straighten Out’ (single, 1977)
‘Duchess’ (from ‘The Raven’ 1979)
‘Hanging Around’ (from ‘Rattus Norvegicus’ 1977)
‘The Lines’ (from ‘Dark Matters’ 2021) (Jean-Jacques & Baz only)
‘And If You Should See Dave…’ (from ‘Dark Matters’ 2021) (Jean-Jacques & Baz only)
‘Go Buddy Go’ (single, 1977)
‘No More Heroes’ (from ‘No More Heroes’ 1977)
More information on The Stranglers can be found HERE.