In the commonly told story of The Fall – you know; 60 members, megalomaniac, flawed genius, John Peel, always different, always the same, blah blah blah – the current line-up being the longest serving in the band’s nearly 40 years barely registers a footnote. Since playing their first gig together in the daunting surrounds of Reading Festival in 2006 – surely giving them a strong initial bond – their work on four studio full lengths and this year’s Remainderer EP have been stylistically varied, consistent in quality and amongst the best periods in the band’s history.
In keeping with that theme, if there was one moment that characterized a very enjoyable if not classic gig, it comes during a rollicking version of ‘Bury’ from 2010’s Our Future Your Clutter album. Smith hands the microphone to the front row and poses Christ like, arms outstretched, looks to the crowd and then turns, and in his understated and mischievous way looks admiringly at every member of his band like a proud father. For just a fleeting minute you got a view of Mark E Smith, the biggest Fall fan in the world. It was heartwarming and testament to the discipline, hive-mind and mutual respect that makes this a superb Fall line-up.
Smith himself was in exceptional form, his japery generally good natured, excluding an attack on the stand-up drummer’s kit, perhaps precipitated by his non-adherence to Smith’s ‘no posing’ mantra. The frontman was lucid, in the main intelligible and moving around rather than sat behind an amp. There was even time for a tender moment with his wife Elena, whose synth sound was a highlight of the show. He seemed excited and energized by the addition of a second drummer and by the three new songs played during the set.
Two of the new songs were outstanding. The fifth song in makes use of an ascending descending guitar lick, a burbling synth and those amazing double drums that drift into this-could-go-on-forever kraut territory. It sounds like a road song for space travel, unlike anything they’ve done with this line up. The penultimate song of the main set ‘Dedication’ has a bouncy spacehopper synth juxtaposed beautifully with a shuffly staccato guitar line. It ends up sounding like Andy Weatherall’s classic remix of MBV classic ‘Soon’ if you replaced the baggy with something approaching Blawan. Exactly an hour after the band came on, they departed and the house lights came up. The faithful, well aware of this ruse, held on for an encore and were rewarded with an intense, metallic, if brief run through The Stooges ‘Cock In My Pocket’.
Earlier in the evening The Sticks proved themselves to be the perfect Fall support act: ramshackle, rhythmically based, with stream of consciousness lyrics, resolutely unshowy and good without ever being in danger of upstaging the main act. As refreshing as Smith’s pre-gig lager were some thoughtful, varied, period selections being DJ’ed before and between bands that completely avoided punk cliché.