I wonder if anyone actually knows the exact number of gigs that Mark E Smith and The Fall have performed since the group's formation in 1976? It can't be easy being a member of a band that has seen about 60 people come and go from its line up, but tonight is a fine example of why this configuration of The Fall has lasted longer than any other, about five years in fact.
The group bash away at superb opener 'Victrola Time' for about 3 minutes before Smith makes his entrance, offering up lyrics that bear very little resemblance to the ones on the recorded version. The lively, dangerous bounce of 'Hot Cake' is followed by a fearsome 'Stychrine' and the infectious rhythm of 'Jetplane', one of four selections from their recent and rather excellent Top 40 album 'Re-Mit'.
Only a few songs in and MES is already kicking microphone stands over and messing with the equipment. The snarling groove of 'Chino' occasionally explodes into periods of intense power that highlight the dynamics of these fine musicians. Smith likes to keep them in shape, playing with their sound and sometimes putting them to the test. During an odd sounding 'Sir William Wray' Peter Greenway's guitar is almost inaudiable. It seems that Smith has turned down the guitarist's volume perhaps so he'll have to thrash as hard as he can at the strings just to be heard, but instead the six strings produce nothing but silence, and we are denied the song's ferocious riff. On the studio version, each instrument fits together like a jigsaw, but with a massive part of the puzzle missing tonight, the song has nowhere near as much impact. It's the one underwhelming moment of an otherwise fierce performance.
The uncompromising brilliance of Smith's unique vocal style is backed with the tight, insisent hooks repeated by the four other members, who are all in good form. Smith's wife and keyboardist Elena Poulou is the image of ultimate cool, arriving and exiting in a long red coat, handbag hung on the synth stand. As well as creating some fantastic sounds, she also provides vocals on an attitude packed 'I've Been Duped' as MES stands at the front staring over the crowd, a lively and often mental section of them in the centre at the front going nuts throughout most of the set. Elena also provides an unexpected vocal on the first part of 'Hittite Man' before handing it back to Mark, who seems to be improvising around certain sections of the song's original lyric.
During a raucous and joyfully noisy 'Psykick Dancehall' MES hands microphones to people in the crowd, happy for the audience to contribute to the whole experience. There seems to be an element of chaotic fun as well as the chance for others to simply stand and take in every bit of the music. MES and band seem to be having more fun as the set progresses. When Smith wanders off to deliver his words behind the stage during a brutal 'Reformation', two enthusiastic individuals decide to get up and indulge in some embarrassing "dad dancing", before one of them gets pulled off to one side by security and after being given a little longer to enjoy himself, the other is pushed offstage into the crowd. Smith passes Greenway the microphone for a few lines, looking over at Elena and the crowd with a wicked smile, and as the groove gets stronger and louder, the song begins to draw the set to a close.
It's a short set that finishes almost dead on time for the 11pm curfew, and Smith seemed to be offstage throughout a lot of it, and yet no-one seems to be complaining. But one thing's for sure, every Fall gig you go to will be nothing like the last one. Like the band's biggest fan John Peel once famously said: "always different, always the same"...
Read my review of the new album 'Re-Mit' HERE
View more photos from the gig HERE
And watch a selection of clips filmed at the gig below...