Thankfully the various social media channels that tonight’s crowd are likely to follow had given plenty of warning about the early door/set times. There were rumours of there only being 15 minutes between doors opening and Ruts DC walking on stage.
Thankfully that changed to 45 minutes and a good job it did as by the time the band walk on stage at 6:45 Leeds Academy is well on it’s way to being full. Ruts DC still play like it’s 1979 and deliver a set that’s packed full of the punk energy that sounds as fresh now as it did 40 years ago.
Ruts DC don’t do slow and from the opening notes of ‘Something That I Said’ we’re taken back to some classic songs that formed the backbone of our musical youth. It’s a classic Ruts DC set that includes ‘S.U.S’, the driving power and haunting guitars of ‘It Was Cold’, the reggae stomp of ‘Jah War’, ‘Staring At The Rude Boys’, the chant of ‘In A Rut’ and the thrash of ‘Babylon’s Burning’. It’s enough to satisfy any punk present but let’s not forget that Ruts DC don’t just churn out material from their original incarnation as The Ruts. ‘Kill The Pain’ and ‘Psychic Attack’ from 2016’s ‘Music Must Destroy’ are just as powerful as earlier material and new song ‘Born Innocent’ thankfully states clearly that Ruts DC will be around for a while yet.
Throughout their (too) short set Leigh Heggarty rarely takes time to take a breath, thrashing his guitar yet drawing out those iconic sounds whilst releasing a ton of pent up energy. Across the stage Segs Jennings stands coolly looking out at the crowd whilst filling the venue with those unmistakeable bass riffs and vocals. Holding it all together is the driving force of drummer Dave Ruffy. The great news is that Ruts DC are recording a new album and will head out on their own headline tour at the back end of the year.
As it always does ‘Waltzinblack’ tells us The Stranglers are about to walk out on stage for a final date in Leeds on their final full UK tour. The history of the band sees line-up changes and, in 2020, the tragic loss to Covid of original keyboard player Dave Greenfield. Greenfield’s magical, often carnivalesque sounds, together with JJ Burnel’s driving bass riffs, have formed the backbone of The Stranglers sound for nearly 50 years so these were big shoes for recent recruit Toby Hounsham to step into. Hounsham did Greenfield proud and played a superb gig. Stranglers fans have quite rightly welcomed him into the fold.
Opening song ‘Toiler On The Sea’ sets the tone for what is to be a night of career spanning songs from 1977 right up to recent 2021 album ‘Dark Matters’. JJ’s iconic driving bass and Hounsham’s keyboards backing Baz Warne’s gruff vocal delivery through a favourite from any Stranglers live set. 1977’s ‘Something Better Change’ and ‘Sometimes’ follows and by this time the crowd is bouncing. The Stranglers always stood out from the original ‘77 punk bands. Their sound was unique with an underlying ominously aggressive bass topped with playfully sinister keyboard sounds.
JJ Burnel still delivers those bass riffs with the swagger and stare that he’s always done. And Baz Warne’s vocals are uncannily similar in sound to those of original vocalist Hugh Cornwell meaning songs from decades ago sound as good now as they did then. But this is also a tour promoting 2021 album ‘Dark Matters’. Four songs in and ‘Water’ shows that The Stranglers have lost nothing of their power whilst bringing their iconic sound bang up to date. ‘Water’ is not just a one off. ‘This Song’, ‘The Last Men On the Moon’ and ‘White Stallion’ justify the opinions that ‘Dark Matters’ saw a real return to form for the band. Being the last full UK tour The Stranglers are going to do tonight was always going to be about delivering a set of well loved classics. And with the exception of the few songs from Dark Matters the main 22 song set was dominated by the superb run of early albums and singles this band delivered. ‘Nice N Sleazy’, ‘(Get A ) Grip (On Yourself), ‘Straighten Out’, ‘Peaches’ – “I can think of a lot worse places to be – like 10 Downing street” , ‘Curfew’ keep the lovers of that more traditional punk sound happy whilst the softer, more accessible, pop driven sounds of ‘Walk On By’, ‘Skin Deep’, ‘Always The Sun’ and ‘Golden Brown’ break things up and bring a sense of calm to the evening. ‘The Raven’ is, according to many, the album that brought The Stranglers to the masses. ‘Don’t Bring Harry’ showed off the perfect keyboard skills of Hounsham and the delicate vocal delivery from Burnel whilst ‘Nuclear Device’ and especially ‘Duchess’ saw the crowd once more bouncing. ‘Duchess’ bringing possibly the biggest singalong of the night as well as a single shoulder sitter joining in as if her life depended on it.
‘Hanging Around’ closes a main set consisting of 20+ songs that showcased not only the power of the Stranglers output but also the sheer diversity of songs they’ve released over the years.
JJ and Baz return to the stage, perch themselves on stools for ‘The Lines’, a quiet tale of the stresses, worries, good times, and laughter that combine to etch our physical features. ‘And If You Should See Dave’ is a poignant reminder and tribute to one of music’s most talented keyboard personalities and a lifelong friend of the clearly emotional Burnel. It provides a quiet moment of reflection for a great proportion of the crowd who have followed The Stranglers for over 40 years. The band leave the stage to return a few minutes later to close the night with a blistering ‘5 Minutes’, the explosive ‘Tank’ and finally a superb ‘No More Heroes’ before taking a well-deserved bow and leaving the stage for what is very likely the last time in Leeds.
With such a backlog of superb albums and singles The Stranglers can’t have had an easy task to choose tonight’s setlist and 26(?) songs later they’ve shown just how good a live band they are. I doubt there’d have been a single disappointed person here. Excellent.
Photos and Words by Steve White