Review of Shepherds Bush Empire 2nd December 2005

I hate the Shepherds Bush Empire.  It has to be my least favourite venue anywhere in the world, and it would take wild horses to drag me down there.  Certainly there is no way I would go there just to see The Stranglers play, unless of course the programme was so intriguing that I felt that I had to witness it.  That was the case for this special show, which featured a semi-acoustic set, the preview of the film Norfolk Coast, followed by the full electric set.  I reluctantly persuaded myself to go, and by the time I made my way across London I had forgotten my prejudices and was actually looking forward to the show. 
The Stranglers were due on stage unfashionably early at 8:15, which left very little time for dinner, but for once the brusqueness of the waiting staff at the nearby Thai restaurant worked in my favour as it made for a very quick supper.  Although the venue was packed at 8pm, it wasn’t as mad as I remembered it being when the Stranglers took to the stage at 8:15pm.   The opening track was Instead Of This, with JJ  clearly enjoying taking the lead in the vocals.  Both JJ and Baz were seated playing acoustic bass and guitar respectively.  The sound was as good as I have ever heard for a semi-acoustic set, and Baz in particular was in fine form, particularly when playing his own composition Dutch Moon.  Dave joined in on guitar for Sanfte Kuss (stonking version of one of my favourites), and Baz’s solo guitar playing for that track was superlative.  Tucker’s Grave and SLG also hit the spot for me.  They left the stage after three quarters of an hour, and after a very fine semi-acoustic performance.

Then the film.  If you only like reading positive reviews then I suggest you stop reading now.  I have to say that it didn’t really work for me.  Maybe it was just the venue, or the fact that I couldn’t hear the dialogue very well, but I don’t think I was alone.  I was expecting an extended video clip to the Norfolk Coast track, but it was more like JJ Burnel trying to emulate Luis Buñuel and failing.  This was a JJ Burnel film, written by JJ Burnel, starring JJ Burnel, based on an idea by JJ Burnel and featuring the music of JJ Burnel.  Original screenplay and concept by JJ Burnel and………well I think you get the idea.  The remaining members of the Stranglers did get cameo roles in the film, a fact I only learned through reading the credits, as they certainly were not at all prominent in the film.  Curiously the track Norfolk Coast did not feature, but I did register clips of Dutch Moon and Tuckers Grave.  If I am proved wrong and the film achieves critical acclaim or becomes a box office hit then so be it.

The film seemed to unsettle the crowd which added to the fervour during the interval before the lights went down for the customary Waltzinblack.  The electric set was just spectacular, the sound clear and huge, with perhaps just the keyboards a little low in the mix.  The set list kicked off with Norfolk Coast then continued in similar fashion to the set list we have heard over the last year or so, with some interesting additions – notably Toiler On The Sea (a favourite of mine), Burning Up Time and Time To Die (with Paul’s vocal instead of JJ’s).  The concert was filmed with multiple cameras for release on DVD.  There was some playing to the camera, and I got the impression that they were all trying very hard to get the best sound possible for the DVD.  They were as tight as it possible for a band to be, and Jet’s drumming was superb.  No More Heroes was the final track as ever, the only one where I heard a very slight mistake.

By now I had forgotten my hatred of the venue, and despite getting hotter and sweatier than is good for someone of my age, I ended up very pleased I went. During the journey home I thought about what a great DVD it will hopefully be – summing up accurately the Stranglers and set-list of the moment.  And then it dawned on me – let’s hope this does not prove to be a swan song.  Whatever the case, I plan to buy the DVD and who knows, I might even give the Norfolk Coast film another try.

Anthony Goodwin

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