I went to see the Fall to celebrate the end of a particularly busy and stressful period at work. Also, they had been great at the Jeff Mangum ATP earlier this year, so I thought "if they were great at a festival, then surely they will be even greater playing a full gig on their own?". In this I was to be somewhat disappointed.
Arriving I was struck by how many older men there were in the audience. As you know, the Fall have been around for a long time. They are famous for having a rather fluid line-up. On this occasion, however, it struck me that the band's membership has stabilised somewhat. The guitarist and keyboardist were with them the last couple of times I saw them. Internet researches suggest that other members of the band have also been around for several years too. And I think the singer has been with them for a while as well.
The band are also famous for being a bit erratic live. For a long time I had managed to avoid duff Fall gigs, but when I saw them a couple of years ago in the Tripod they seemed a bit below par (or maybe it was all the trend people in the audience harshing my buzz). But they were so on form at ATP that I was prepared to write that off as an aberration. This time I would not describe them as being musically off-form, but I was struck by how short a set they played. They were gone less than an hour after they started, and if you factor in the time they spent between the main set and the encore then they may only have been onstage for 50 minutes. This provided me with somewhat poor value for money, so I retaliated by not buying another t-shirt or many of the fine albums they had for sale.
What they did play, however, was great. When people talk about the Fall, they tend to focus on their singer, Mark E. Smith, the band's only constant member. That focus tends to overstate the importance of vocals and lyrics to the band, underplaying the importance of the music and the band's playing. And the music is great. The musicians are great at laying down a motorik groove and chugging away. I did maybe sense a certain disengagement from some audience members whenever Mark E. Smith was not present onstage, but for me the band's playing was more than sufficiently entertaining. The musicians also radiate a great "don't give a fuck" attitude, suggesting an acceptance that Fall membership is not a life-sentence. The possible exception to this is the keyboardist (and current Mrs Mark E. Smith), who actually seems quite excited about playing in the Fall. Maybe she was head of their fan club before she was recruited.
I know surprisingly few Fall songs and recognised almost nothing of what they played. One song, I realised, was 'Strychnine' - an old 60s punk cover or blues standard or something? They also encored with a song whose lyrics made me realise that it was the 'Theme from Sparta FC'. This seems to be one of their big tunes, does anyone know what album it comes from? ["What am I, your Google bitch?" - Reader's Voice] I think they might also have played 'Guest Informant' from The Frenz Experiment, with the keyboardist really going for it on the shouty vocals.
One other fun thing was that when Mark E. Smith gave a mic to some guy in the audience, after shouting "Mark E. Smith! The Fall! McGonagles 1981! I was there!", the guy then started providing surprisingly good improvised backing vocals on all the following tracks. You might have had to be there on this one.
Hip Priests and Pandas
An inuit panda production