The Stranglers in Tarbes 20/11/04

People in Tarbes are used to dramatic changes in temperature. It is far enough south for the afternoon sun to feel very warm, even towards the end of November. In the evening however, it is a different story. The snow-covered peaks of the Pyrenees visible by day give a clue to how low the temperatures will plummet by night. Since the venue for the gig (the Centre Culturel La Gespes) had decided not to open its doors until 9pm, we all found ourselves waiting outside experiencing at first hand that bitter cold. The locals were fine with the cold, due to the regional diet of foie gras, magret de canard and haricots Tarbais (cooked in goose fat) providing them with sufficient subcutaneous fat stores. The die-hard Stranglers fans were the ones shivering, but perhaps this was just practice for the forthcoming Iceland trip. We were entertained in the meantime by a group of politically-minded fire-eating vegans.

When the doors finally did open the venue revealed itself as a purpose-built sports-hall type space, with room for 300 or so punters. Good large stage and to my delight no security barrier so room to perch my beer between the monitors. A check of the hall and a few familiar faces were to be seen in the crowd. I was concerned that after so many dates there could be some mid-tour ennui creeping in, but my spies who had seen a number of gigs over the previous days told me that things had been improving as the week progressed. The venue filled to capacity, and at 9:30 or so support band Asyl appeared on stage. They seemed to have a good following, and played their set energetically and competently. We all sang along to the chorus of their first song "1975", as we had been listening to this repeatedly during their sound check whilst freezing outside just before the doors opened.

By now the frostbite had subsided, but the temperature changed once again when the lights dimmed and a dozen or so English fans cheered the opening bars of Waltzinblack. Sensing that this was the right thing to do, the 300 or so Tarbais joined in as well, although the assembled crowd did not manage to hum along to the tune in ¾ time, as would a home grown audience.

The Stranglers took to the stage and launched into the set that anyone who reads this review will know by now. The sound is solid, the band happy and after the amount of touring these guys have done its no wonder they were as tight as a cul de canard. The audience were very appreciative and jumped and danced around merrily, but without the madness of say the SBE crowd. There was good interaction with Paul who enjoyed speaking French to the assembled mass. Baz received a huge cheer for his Golden Brown solo, and further appreciation was shown to both Baz and Dave for their solo efforts in Walk on By - a track now promoted from encore to the main set. The other change from the Norfolk Coast set I had seen earlier in the year was the inclusion of Nuclear Device, a relic from the Australian tour. No concessions were made to this home audience in terms of choice of songs, although I did hear the inevitable cry for "La Folie" which left Paul less than impressed.

During the encore, Paul decided to change the order of "5 minutes", and one punter who had the cheek to suggest that Paul had gone wrong was given short shrift by the singer and deservedly so.

"No More Heroes" finished the gig as usual, and whilst the Stranglers went back to their tour bus (which must be a bit smelly by now?), the rest of us went outside for yet another sudden temperature change. The frostbite starts to come to back, but its nothing that some food and a good bottle of Bordeaux can't cure.

I wouldn't go as far as to say that this was a vintage gig, but if we keep the wine analogy going or a moment, it was definitely a Premier Cru Estate Bottled concert. The Stranglers have made some new friends and fans amongst the good people of Tarbes, and most of the die hard Brits I spoke to have already got their tickets for Nice sorted. This can't be a bad way to have spent a weekend.

Anthony Goodwin

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