The Kazimier 16/5/15

When it comes to gigs by THE FALL, the only thing that’s absolutely certain is that absolutely nothing is certain. You’ll never to know what to expect with Mark E. Smith. That’s kind of the point, though. Always has been. As anyone who’s followed his 31-album career will tell you, he’s nothing if not unpredictable. This means it’s always a memorable night in Smith’s company. Tonight, the band appear while Smith stands stage-side, toying with one of what turns out to be no less than three vocal mics, and, while they wait, start hammering out the angry tribal rhythm of Venice With The Girls, the first song from new album Sub-Lingual Tablet. They’re happy enough to hammer all this out while Smith takes his time. It’s a formidable noise they make too. Smith’s wife, Elena Poulou, on a screaming analogue Korg synth, accompanied by the guttural funk sound of Dave Spurr’s bass, and the treble heavy Stratocaster surf sound of Pete Greenway all sit comfortably on top of the wild abandon of drummers Keiron Melling and Daren Garratt; heavy and also brilliant, in the true meaning of the word. At two years, this is the longest-serving line-up of a band that’s been in existence for some three and a half decades. In that time, no fewer than 65 people have walked through the door marked ‘The Fall’. But then, that’s as many as The La’s had in ten short years.

Enter stage left, Mark E Smith, a walking poetic, charismatic, northern lyrical giant. He smirks and almost – but not quite – smiles as he riffs his way through this storming set, taken mainly from this album as well as previous collections Reformation Post TLC, and Re-Mit. In-between songs he stands to attention at the front of the stage, straight-backed, like the drunk guy who’s trying to convince the approaching cab driver that he’s not completely twisted. He struts and stalks the stage, swapping microphones and jackets, and live ‘remixing’ the guitar by messing with the settings on Greenway’s amp. He tickles the guitarist as he does it, and it’s clear he’s up for some mischief tonight. The crowd play a large part, as he welcomes their welcome, and reacts accordingly, passing one of the mics round, and grinning at their best, or, more precisely, worst, Mark E. Smith impressions. Dedication Not Medication is a highlight; Smith nods for the band to stretch it out, so that he can improvise on one of the lines: “Pierce Brosnan, how dare you prescribe me bed-wet pills?” Fair comment.

They stroll offstage at the end, and Smith takes the radio mic with him into the garden, where he keeps going, as only he can, before they return for a blistering, bolshy and bruising Smith-a-long-sing-a-long version of the utterly magnificent Theme From Sparta FC from 2003. A return to the garden follows, before a final double-speed and frantic Blindness finishes the night, with Smith and the band leaving one at a time, before stumbling up the steps at the back of the stage, and off into the night. When they leave, and the music comes on, one lad staggers up to his girlfriend next to us, and says “I can’t believe you brought me all this way to see a baghead with a microphone.” He doesn’t get it. Thankfully, we do.

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