The Fall, Islington Assembly Hall | New music reviews, news & interviews
The Fall, Islington Assembly Hall
The shamanic Mark E Smith and his band on exhilaratingly good form
Support bands tend to get short shrift, but it would be criminal not to give Evil Blizzard their due here. Made up of three bass guitarists with assorted effects pedals and a drummer who also sang, three members of the band were in pink pyjamas and wearing masks, while the fourth was in black leather and a Hawkwind hairdo. They produced industrial levels of noise around steady riffs and a variety of filthy bass sounds.
One member removed his silver, robotic mask to reveal a scarecrow hood underneath, and a song later removed that too, only to be left with a third, featureless rubber face underneath that… the sheer commitment to the bizarre was nothing short of heroic. “This one is called Feed the flames” said the drummer and you thought, well yes, of course it is. For the last song – although "song" is hardly the right word – they were joined by someone in a boiler suit and pig mask who proceeded to stage-fight with one of them while the other produced a theremin in the shape of a doll’s head. If it sounds like the Chapman brothers may have been involved, it is also fair to say that Evil Blizzard may be more eligible for the Turner Prize than the Mercury. In any other artform they would have a ring-fenced Arts Council grant.
Smith retains his healthy disregard for what an audience might actually want. No rolling out of old hits here
And so to The Fall, one of the ultimate acquired musical tastes, and all the more treasured for that reason. A famously unstable lineup, with Mark E Smith as its only common thread, has produced 29 studio albums at a rate of nearly one per year. A small but rabidly loyal fanbase has plenty of ammunition to claim that this really is the greatest band alive, if only for its single-minded pursuit of something completely unique and untroubled by fashion or the vagaries of fame. Smith, who spent most of the Eighties and Nineties looking like he was on the verge of burning out (and by all accounts tried his best to do just that), was in fine fettle. Bearing in mind, of course, that to the uninitiated he would still look like an angry drunk at the local boozer (not the gastropub – the other one).
Smith’s wife, Elena Poulou, a member of the band since 2002, was as usual on keyboards, looking incongruously elegant among the stocky pub rockers Dave Spurr (bass), Pete Greenway (guitar) and Keiron Melling (drums). At five years and counting, this is the most long-lived version of the band, and they sounded like it too. Tight, driving, motoric – The Fall as the apotheosis of the riff, giving Smith the most solid of foundations over which to spit and growl his outsider poetry. A number of new songs made it onto the set, suggesting not just that there is a 30th album in the offing, but also that Smith retains his healthy disregard for what an audience might actually want. No rolling out of old hits here. There was a staff-room easychair behind the guitar amps, to which Smith occasionally withdrew to sit and sift through some crumpled lyric sheets.
A cheer of approval greeted the more familiar sounds of "Hot Cake", "Cowboy George" and "Bury" from 2010’s Your Future Our Clutter, and Smith himself snapped into more commanding, lead singer role for these. The same album’s "Weather Report" reminded us that somewhere he has a spot which is not soft exactly, but at least less abrasive. He also seemed to particularly enjoy "Container Drivers", a rollicking 12-bar rock'n'roll number from 1980.
The most recent album features the typically acerbic title Ersatz GB. And the truest thing you can say about The Fall is that it exists in an entirely different dimension to the grubby business of manufactured pop. It is the product of a singular vision, unsullied by commercialism. It is echt to the nth degree. And you probably wouldn’t enjoy it.
Subscribe to theartsdesk.com
Thank you for continuing to read our work on theartsdesk.com. For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 10,000 pieces, we're asking for £2.95 per month or £25 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.
To take an annual subscription now simply click here.
And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a theartsdesk.com gift subscription?
more New music
Not so crazy after all these years
From Afrobeat to psychedelia, from electronica to guitar pop, it's all here on plastic
As grime enters its mature phase, what contribution can Manchester make?
Literate Canadians bond with the audience to inspire a sing-along
After seven years away, the synth-pop return of a great Scottish songwriter
Despite an ill-balanced sound, the Mancunian orchestral/house music mash-up kicks off
The ABC mastermind on how he got his mojo back and finally made 'The Lexicon of Love II'
Richard Fearless returns with a minimalist electronica masterpiece
The latest eclectic global radio show starring Trinidadian legend Calypso Rose
Snazzy but fans-only 20th-anniversary reissue of ‘Everything Must Go’
Restless experimentalist creates sublimely novel electro-acoustic blend
Festival curator delivers her personal mix of contemplative electronica