More often than not, the daunting, and perhaps in retrospect, haunting task of reviewing The Fall is a practice best avoided. The same applies when holding any great expectations for their live performances, such are the varying levels of euphoria and disappointment which always seems to accompany Mark E. Smith and his revolving ensemble of musicians.
The highs and lows have followed The Fall and their gigs over recent years, and tonight’s near sell out show at Glasgow’s Arches was met with much trepidation and cautious expectation, by this reviewer at least.
MES is revered and adored by many, seen as a frustrating annoyance to others, and no doubt regarded as all of the above to just about everyone else who has ever taken the slighted interest in HIS band, The Fall. This evening, Smith plays all the parts already well known and loved by those of us who continue time and time again to turn out to catch a glimpse, and the crowd seem well schooled in what they will be met with. Humour is in the air before a chord is strummed, with a rousing jovial crowd chorus of ‘Marky, what’s the score, Marky-Marky, what’s the score?’ – a reference to Smiths appearance a few years back on BBC 1’s Football Focus, where he duly read out the football classified results.
He appears on stage (after the entire band as usual) waving around a huge document, a manuscript of sorts full of God-knows what, and for a second, some no doubt anticipated another round up from the Championship footy. Later on, one punter, clearly seeking a more aesthetically pleasing performance from Smith, belted out ‘Gees a tune ya auld jakey’ – roughly translated as ‘Play us a hit you drunk’ for my friends south of the border. And funnily enough, the hits did come, with the band focusing heavily on their last great album – 2011’s ‘Our Future Your Clutter’, and featuring tracks like ‘Hot Cake’, ‘Weather Report 2’ and the majestic ‘Cowboy George’, which live, sounded like perverse post-modern take on Jacques Brels classic ‘Jackie’. Likewise, ‘Bury pts 1+3’ was a pivotal point, with the baseline doing most of the work, and MES left to again ‘serenade’ the crowd with his near incomprehensible prose. Brilliant.
During the show MES wanders about the stage aimlessly, at times like a dementia ridden old codger, elsewhere like a shy petulant schoolboy, whilst the band do their best to fill the void created in the middle of the stage. But Smith knows what he’s doing (I think), for when he does appear the crowd almost takes a collective gulp in anticipation of what he’s going to mumble at us next. Indeed, the band themselves provide the perfect backdrop for Smiths random and frequent disappearing acts, his rambling, his prophesising, and in the end, it all comes together to make perfect sense. After all, this is a Fall show.
Firmly planted in the middle of the stage for once, MES uncharacteristically brought the night to its finale with two tracks which would have satisfied the most ardent of Fall convert. First, with ‘The Container Drivers’, taken from 1980’s ‘Grotesque(After the Gramme)’, and then an extended version of ‘Blindness’, taken from another ‘quality’ Fall record from the last few years – ’Fall Heads Roll’.
Given the standards already displayed and overall satisfaction gained, it was hardly surprising that they would give us no encore. But it didn’t matter. MES had already supplied us what we came for. He’d played with our emotions and kept us hungry for more. Like the bands most famous champion John Peel said, they’re “always different, yet always the same. They’re the Fall.” Thank Christ.
Original review on Glasswerk link