Review: The Stranglers, Ulster Hall, Belfast
For many people The Ulster Hall has become a venue of refinery, of classical music and choral performances. With its grand sloping ceilings and Mulholland grand organ, it’s easy to forget that this beauty of a venue has hosted some of Northern Irelands most iconic rock gigs. From Zeppelin to AC/DC the hall has certainly seen its share of legends, and this evening is no different with two heavy weights of the 70’s rock era take to the stage for a jam packed night of heavy flowing rock and roll.
Dr Feelgood jerk onto the stage to a modest crowd who were in need of a quick warming up on a Thursday evening. Pulling no punches, vocalist Robert Kane took his place centre stage, arched himself into an angular stance and let loose on ‘All Through The City’. The blues poured through the venue like a warm sea and quickly lifted energies of post-work gig comers. Choppy guitars and driving rhythm dominated the set with Kane breaking out the harmonica and pummelling the crowd with ‘Roxette’s’ dagger-like solo. Classics such as ‘Milk and Alcohol’ were undeniable crowd pleasures from an all-together tight and fun-filled set.
Stranglers fans all over Northern Ireland held their collective breath when they saw the date of 2019’s show. February, again? Loyal fans, as are these, come yearly to see the band and many remember the 2018 February ‘Freeze Out’ which caused the Stranglers 2018 show to be cancelled and relocated to warmer months. With fingers and toes crossed, the date came without a hitch and those worn-out but well-loved band tees were summoned from drawers as the masses descended upon the hall for 2019’s Belfast leg.
The nights backdrop encompasses the atmosphere of The Stranglers perfectly, a sludgy, darkened sewer riddled with nastiness and volatile potential and yet in the distance a broken-down wall reveals an opening to something intriguing, something unknown and new. Dare you enter the darkness? If you do, you’re in for the ride of a life time, as many of tonight’s crowd already know, exploding with the first notes of JJ Burnel’s bellowing baseline.
Opening strong with the snarling ‘Bitching’ taken from the band’s second studio album No More Heroes. Brunel’s growl reverberates in the chest as they get things off to a stellar start. Following is surely a war cry of any long-term rocker, ‘I’ve Been Wild’ brings guitarist, Baz Warne and keyboardist, Dave Greenfield to the forefront with a stabbing intro that tears open a hole for the lingering regrets of Burnel’s jaded and macabre lyricisms.
The night is peppered with hits and crowd pleasers, when you’ve been going for this long it’s likely a hard task to fit in everyone’s favourite. Big hitters like ‘Peaches’ and ‘Golden Brown’ predictably electrify the crowd, however there’s a feeling among the room that the sound engineer may have been playing things on the safe side – crank it up next time for full throttle effects.
A special moment came for devoted fans as they are privileged enough to hear a world exclusive new track from the band. Burnel exclaims “This is the first time we’ve ever played this song live, you’re the first people in the world to hear it”. A true once in a life time moment for a crowd who lap up the new material as if it was already in their record collections.