Posted by: Nick Walters | November 25, 2009

The Fall, Bristol Metropolis 23/11/09

This must be my 20th Fall gig since I first saw them 23 years ago (Cheltenham Town Hall, May, 1986). Or 21st. I really must make a list one day. The last time was  July 2007 when they headlined the fateful final Ashton Court Festival. That was a lacklustre performance;  though the crowd, and I, enjoyed it, The Fall weren’t on form, the new band members (Pete Greenway on guitar, Keiron Melling on drums and Dave “The Eagle” Spurr on bass) seemed unsure of themselves, and the glory of Imperial Wax Solvent was almost a year away.

Now, though, almost two and a half years later, that Fall are well on form; a tight, coherent, credible force of crunching, manic, energetic sonic attack.

At least on the evidence of the current tour, of which the Bristol gig formed part of the Southernmost leg (after Exeter).  The venue was the Bristol Metropolis, originally a cinema, then a pub, and now a comedy club which hosts the occasional music act. Outside, the venue’s roots are still well in evidence, but inside, it basically a big, basic, square box, with the bar and bogs to the left, mixing desk at the rear and stage at the front.  Only the balcony belies its cinematic origins. A relatively small venue, it had completely sold out, and by the time I arrived (after a few ales at the Pipe and Slippers opposite – recommended), the place was packed with the usual crowd of thirty – or forty – or fifty-something Fall fans, a smattering of younger people, a broad church, the curious and the committed rubbing shoulders all eager to pay homage to the Hip Priest.

Sorry got carried away a bit there…. I caught the very end of the second support act,  Girl Peculiar, which consisted of the peculiar girl herself, plus former Fall member and M.E.S. collaborator Ed Blaney but didn’t see enough really to comment. Ed however ended their set by performing a busker’s version of Joy Division’s Atmosphere. Should have done the Russ Abbot one mate, it would at least have been funny.

The Fall were on stage at 10.30, after the usual build-up. Band members first, of course, appearing one by one and building up a menacing riff of chunderous intensity. It was a while – seemed like ages – before Mark E. Smith appeared, immaculate in slacks, shirt and leather jacket. The first song grew out of the instrumental opening to become Our Future – Your Clutter, going by the lyrics. Brand new to me, can’t recall it now, seemed OK but hearing new songs live is odd, you can’t mosh along cos you don’t know it, you just stand there, assimilating it and wondering what it’ll sound like on the new album.

Next up – Strangetown, the Groundhogs cover from IWS. Enjoyable enough but I’d have placed it later in the set, get the crowd whipped up with something like Wolf Kidult Man. Which coincidentally was next – a rifftastic beast of a song which really got the gig underway. By now it was clear that this version of the Fall fucking ROCKS. No two ways about it. Melling is a brutal flailing beast of a drummer, Spurr a competent bassist (though you’ll NEVER replace Stephen Hanley in my books) and guitarist Pete Greenway looked scared to death all the time but delivered, especially on the relentless riffery that is Slippy Floor, which followed after Chino Splashback – two new songs (well new to me) in a row which seemed to augur well for the new album (Our Future – Your Clutter, out in January next year, I believe).

Eleni looked as  beautiful as ever and her synth sound is now fully part of the band, it is hard to imagine The Fall without her, she has been a stable presence for almost ten years! Blimey. She took lead vocal duties on the next song, the cute punk pop of I’ve Been Duped. I must apologise at this point as I had to visit the bogs and get a round in, so I missed most of that song. I was back in time for another new song, Cowboy George, which featured a seriously evil, shrill riff from Mr Greenway.

As for the main man, Mark E. seemed to be in  good mood all evening, not pissed (well not visibly),  belting out the vocals, and, yes, doing the usual amp-twiddling and gurning like a goblin whilst he did so. For some reason he lay down at the back of the stage during one song, and at another point tried to snog the bassist (or that’s what it looked like), and used multiple mikes – sometimes two at once – but this was no way the drunken incoherent performance commonly reported in the lazy bastard press.

Next up was the low point of the evening for me, a shocking version of Scenario, one of the best songs from their 2007 album Reformation Post TLC. A lithe, supple lament on disc, tonight it was butchered into lumpen pieces, and seemed to go on forever. Thank God then that 50 Year Old Man followed in all its glory to wipe out the memory. Then came Blindness, one of the best Fall songs EVER, and this was an excellent version, except, from where I was standing, the bass was almost inaudible – which removes the whole point of the song. Perhaps it was due to Mark’s twiddling or a mistake at the mixing desk, but it marred what was a spirited performance from the band. A slightly disappointing end to the evening – had it ended there, but it didn’t, there were two encores.

The first was, to my utter joy, Psyckick Dancehall, which they did admirable justice to and I danced like a loon. Another interval and they were back on for a brilliant, storming run through Mr Pharmacist (the song they’ve played the most live), by this time Mark had removed his jacket and with his mid-length hair he looked and sounded as though he’d stepped through a wormhole straight from 1986.

But The Fall aren’t about nostalgia despite these nods to the past (and with a back catalogue as vast and impressive as theirs, they could perhaps be blamed for over-indulging in raiding it, however they show great restraint in playing mostly new or recent material) and so the last song was I’m Not From Bury – again, new to me, but it sounded fantastic. By the final verse Mark had left the stage at it was the tour manager who delivered the final verses – a strange ending to a great set.

After the gig I bought the new single Slippy Floor (a piece of insane rockabilly that sounds like a lost version of Rowche Rumble, fuller review soon), and staggered out into the night,  ears ringing with the glory of The Fall. Overall it was a solid, entertaining set though as many of the songs were new to me I can’t tell if  they were good, or shite, versions. They certainly seem full of energy and attack, though maybe somewhat lacking in innovation. However I am stoked for the new album – January can’t come too soon – something to look forward to in that grimmest of months!

All hail the Mighty Fall.

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