Unless you’re a die hard fan, akin to John Peel, you can be forgiven for dipping in and out of The Fall’s thirty-six year career. With 29 albums under their belt, a wrath of old members and an interchanging personality with each show, following The Fall is a dedicated business. Follow them around enough and you may even find yourself in and out of the band within a month.
For this reviewer the band’s vast back catalogue is only a slice of the group’s ethos. Previously we’ve been left flabbergasted as Mark E. Smith wanders around the stage like he’s looking for the local bingo night. Yet the band, perhaps partly powered by the approval of Mr Smith, are left creating a billowing backdrop for his interspersed lyrics.
And there’s no reason for tonight to be any different. Strong, distinct rhythms blast an instrumental intro of such quality that Smith’s arrival could easily be forgotten. Bumbling onstage you could be forgiven for thinking he’d slept through his alarm. Centering himself surrounded by his adoring band and audience the Brudenell is lined with tightly-packed fans staring intently towards their idol.
But surprisingly, after leaving fans waiting thirty minutes before appearing onstage, the band come across as a little meek in contrast to previous performances. The audience stands patiently as scattered rhythms and interchanging tempos flick across the stage, with Smith so unsure that he retreats to the back of the stage reading the lyrics from a song sheet.
Unpredictable he may be, but after four songs in a similar vein, bored also comes to mind as many are left re-evaluating by the bar. Hilariously even keyboardist Elena doesn’t attempt to get her feet under the table and chooses to perform not only with her coat, but bag on as well, as if preparing for a quick getaway. But the Brudenell has a habit of getting under your skin and after testing the temperature The Fall continue to garble, pound and force their way into the room.
With the first hit of the simplistic, repetitive rhythms slowly the heads begin to nod and Smith comes alive, soon twiddling with monitors and treating the microphone like a long lost enemy. ‘I’ve Been Duped’ is almost incomprehensible, only recognisable on the continued synths and shouts from the crowd, but it somehow opens a door as Smith feeds back the energy onstage. Then further classics follow. ‘Container Drivers’ is a fast rattle of Manchester drawl with ‘Blindness’ elongating an already infective rhythm and bringing the room to middle-aged chaos.
As a man wearing a shirt and jumper combo stage dives past Smith, it’s clear fans are willing to follow The Fall through thirty-six years and beyond. Tonight is a moment to live without rules and if you don’t know all the twenty-nine albums back to back, who cares? Even Mark E. Smith needs a little help with the lyrics.
Words by Ruth Offord