In the same way that the best football teams are built around a spine of experienced players, The Stranglers have never lost sight of their creative strengths.
Clearly, they had to adapt big time to Hugh Cornwell’s departure in 1990, yet Jet Black, Jean-Jacques Burnel and Dave Greenfield kept that team spirit intact.
And 40 years down the line – with Jet currently consigned to the bench amid health concerns – the latter two are definitely still on their game.
Take their last album, 2012’s Giants, as an example. Barely 40 seconds in, you’re aware of JJ’s growling bass guitar presence, and within a minute Dave adds his distinctive keyboard touch.
That midfield dynamism keeps The Stranglers firing, and it’s a similar story live, judging by this latest add-on to last year’s successful Ruby anniversary tour.
JJ and Dave have competent team-mates in Baz Warne, long-since proven up front, while Jim McAuley, promoted from within, puts in commanding shifts between the sticks.
We were aware of Dave’s mighty organ before he even reached the 53 Degrees stage, so to speak, Team Stranglers coming on to Waltzinblack, back from its loan spell with the late Keith Floyd.
Getting back to that engine room stoking, Baz was off and running to 1978’s Toiler on the Sea, before heading back a further year for landmark (Get A) Grip (On Yourself).
We were reminded of the band’s pop craft on 1984 hit Skin Deep, then got a taste of Giants as JJ offered a pensive Time Was Once On My Side.
The less ‘PC’ Stranglers got a look in on early headline-makers Nice’n’Sleazy and Peaches, and while the strippers – unlike the Rodneys of yore – are no longer queuing up, JJ was at least thrown a pair of briefs (although Baz complained that the price tag was still on).
The band’s more recent output was again showcased by 2006’s reflective Relentless, before a further trip down memory lane with my personal highlight, Duchess, then that album’s evocative title track, The Raven, with JJ taking over.
There were plenty of smiles from Dave along the way, happy behind his towering bank of synths, contributing vocal harmonies and expertly multi-tasking, not least supping his ale mid-song.
Golden Brown got the warm reception you’d expect, but the choruses were louder on 1986’s poignant Always the Sun, perhaps the closest to an anthem the band offer.
There’s no polishing the rough edges, and Death and Night and Blood – another cut from 1978’s Black and White, kept us on our toes and the ageing punks happy.
Nuclear Device had a similar effect, and then came the band’s majestic cover of Walk on By, that patented Stranglers sound beautifully complementing a Bacharach and David classic.
The supreme Hanging Around and Curfew kept the stage divers and old faithful down the front happy, with appreciation too for Norfolk Coast, taken from Baz’s debut Stranglers LP (itself a decade old now).
The set reached its climax with three other early favourites – 5 Minutes, Something Better Change and Tank, the fifth of the night from Black and White, aptly heralding an explosive finish.
Between songs, Baz does much of the talking, but he’s more than a mouthpiece, adding a personable North-East twist to a few crowd-pleasers and some nice guitar touches too.
Similarly, Jim plays his part too, adding the mettle to ensure that spine remains in shape – flying straight with perfection, you could say.
There was plenty of chanting for Jet before the encore, Baz in turn reporting that the 76-year-old was on the mend and determined to rejoin the squad soon – his Makem impression of the man himself worthy of the resultant big cheer in itself.
And with that, JJ teased us with a bit of bass-kidology, hammering on his trusty four-string, setting the venue throbbing – before that magical intro riff led us into No More Heroes, still as potent 37 years down the line.
Pretty soon, we were inching towards the exits as Meninblack issued from the PA, following a big night of nostalgia but much more from Team Stranglers, 2014 style.
* With thanks to Warren Meadows for the use of the photos, and subtly pointing out that I’d forgotten The Raven in my set-list. Schoolboy error.
* For the recent writewyattuk interview/feature with JJ Burnel, head here (with links within to 2013’s Hugh Cornwell interview on these pages).