The Stranglers: On Stage, On Screen Review
Having been to The Griffin in London more than once, I can spot a disinterested stripper from, well, not quite a hundred yards. More the twenty yards from the front of the stage to where I loitered close to the back door. Of the strippers that The Stranglers took to the stage alongside, it was only the blokes who seemed uninterested in events at Battersea Park in 1978. On the contrary, the girls were most enthusiastic, or as much as is possible to tell in the grainy YouTube footage of the concert. To Nice And Sleazy, the boys and girls took the stage and, in doing so, created the kind of memorable rock moment that you'd otherwise need a Mars Bar, a fur rug and a naked Marianne Faithfull for.
There's no Nice And Sleazy this time around and no strippers either. Actually, there are plenty of famous Stranglers songs that don't feature on On Stage, Golden Brown, Nice In Nice, Hanging Around and 96 Tears amongst them. No matter that it's one of the best songs you'll ever hear and that its writing leaves almost every other pop song looking slow-witted, Golden Brown is no surprise. In the Shepherds Bush Empire and with an audience crying out for No More Heroes, its harpsichord, gentle guitar and opiate-flavoured lyrics could well have gotten lost. 96 Tears is more of a surprise given that The Stranglers' two other cover versions are both in the setlist. With so many better songs to choose from, Walk On By and All Day And All Of The Night are not particularly welcome but appear nonetheless, the latter finding some connection to the garage punk of The Kinks but sounding much too clean. It's none the better for knowing that The Stranglers can do gritty and sleazy better than most. Waltzinblack, Peaches and No More Heroes are much better, the first of these played on the PA as the band takes to the stage while the latter comes as the electric set draws to a close.
In the second live section of the DVD, The Stranglers deliver an acoustic set. No matter that 'acoustic' and 'Stranglers' are two words that sit ill together, this is the best part of this DVD. It may be that Paul Roberts finally finds his own voice on these songs - elsewhere, he sounds like someone playing at being Hugh Cornwell - or it may be that Strange Little Girl and Dutch Moon sound superb as performed here but these seven songs make for a surprising but very worthwhile listen. Dutch Moon, on the evidence of this one live recording, could well be one of the best things the band have ever recorded, with this live version head and shoulders above the studio recording.
The On Screen part of the DVD follows, with Jean-Jacques Burnel taking the lead role in Norfolk Coast (17m39s) a short film that sees him returning to his home in Norfolk to draw the suicide of his wife to a close. Burnel might have kept The Stranglers ticking over through the last thirty years and might take no truck from critics thanks to his black belt in karate but he's no actor, something that's made all the more obvious when he's cast alongside Lynsey Baxter, Nicholas Ball and Susannah York. One can't help but think that the footage assembled is of Baxter, Ball and York working through the business of acting with Burnel but that, in the editing, someone replaced all of the bits where he actually delivers a performance with these early rehearsals. There are those who would deride Roger Moore or Charles Bronson for their lack of expressiveness but Burnel, in spite of the death of his wife, the murder of his father and finding that his young daughter is part of a Wicker Man-styled cult, Burnel wears the same face throughout, one that is a mix of boredom and mild irritation.
Still, acting isn't what Burnel became famous for. Instead, he and The Stranglers gained fame for, amongst other things, the sleazy, cod-reggae bassline that is Peaches, a take-no-shit attitude towards critics and a blissful piece of Eastern exotica that became Golden Brown. Though somewhat dated by the time of this release - Roberts left the band in 2006 - this is still a decent live video. A live anthology would have been better for it might then have included what Battersea Park footage that still exists but this is a very fair document of the band from late 2004 and, in Peaches, Waltzinblack, No More Heroes and Dutch Moon, a set of genuinely classic tracks.
Presented in 1.78:1 and with a DD5.1 audio track, there isn't much to complain about. There appear to be a fair number of cameras used in the recording of this show with some placed either side of the stage, some scattered throughout the Shepherds Bush Empire and even a couple of Handycams given to members of the audience to capture the feel of the crowd, with the director avoiding the temptation to skip too quickly between them. Instead, things are generally pretty good with the DVD presentation sometimes troubled by the lights onstage but never by very much else. Granted, it's not quite the equal of a concert film made for a run in the cinemas, such as Sign O' The Times or Stop Making Sense, but it's a cut above the usual nonsense that clogs up the Music DVD section of high street shops. The soundtrack is even better. With little background noise, a decent thud from the drums, plenty of clarity on the top end and audience noise capably mixed into the music, On Stage, On Screen sounds very good throughout. There may be no subtitles but they're not missed and it's definitely good enough to listen to as a live album.
There are no extras on this DVD release.