(by Joseph Viney / pics by Matt Thomas) (orig published by Peter Guy’s Merseyblog)
Ahh, The Fall; at once one of music’s great constants and chameleons. A near 35 year career has seen group leader Mark E. Smith make with wisdom, verbal (and physical!) thuggery and a totally wired state of mind against a backdrop of shifting line-ups and album after album after album.
With a new record, Re-Mit, released May 13 and a current line-up that stands as their longest-serving yet, The Fall plough on regardless of trends, popularity and anything else that conspires to stand in their way.
The Temps took to the stage (very) early doors to a sadly sparse crowd. Their latest EP VIOLA is a neat little comeback and they are keen to reclaim the plaudits that trailed in their wake during their first flourish.
A performance that was brimming with a real urgency and energy was pulled back down by a complete absence of guitar. Their rhythm section ploughed a fearsome furrow and provided the foundations from which vocalist Joey Wainwright jerked and threw himself about like a ragdoll, spitting vocals with venom and a touch of the baritone that called to mind Ian Curtis.
Alas, with one massive part of their sound lost in the wash it felt like you were watching a three-legged greyhound limp to the finish at Wimbledon dog track. On record, the guitar work needles and squeals courtesy of myriad effects, creating a malevolent atmosphere. Tonight it begged to be played straight and without remorse.
Consciously or not, The Temps spring from a musical lineage that contains groups like the Sex Pistols, the Ramones and The Stooges. What do they have in common? Guitarists who got their heads down and played their instruments with an unrelenting fury. Steve Jones, Johnny Ramone and Ron Asheton didn’t fuck about and they did pretty well for themselves. There’s a lesson to be learnt there. Nonetheless, new tracks like Chernobyl offer plenty of promise.
The night’s second support, Evil Blizzard, were something of an unknown quantity and after a thundering display that left more than a few rattling skulls in the aftermath their enigmatic qualities still remain intact.
An audience that had swelled almost out of nowhere, now packed to the rafters got their just in time to catch what must stand out as one of the gigs of the year.
Boasting four bassists (yeah, you heard) and polluting the atmosphere with what they call “northern psychedelic doom”, Evil Blizzard are the musical equivalent of Operation Rolling Thunder; carpet bombing the life out of the audience beneath them.
Bemasked, smeared with poorly applied Joker-style make up and with a menacing physical presence, the group resembled Leatherface’s family in Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 and gave rise to the notion that they were almost as evil as them.
Dank, sludgy riffs were underscored with fuzzy solos, eerie vocal samples and powerful drumming. A bizarre ritual took place towards the end; one of their number brandishing a severed doll’s head and appearing to worship it before offering a few reticent types in the audience to do the same.
Refusal might have turned things ugly so they did as they were told. A fantastic race for the finish ensued, one member bouncing into the audience and allowing his own bass to be passed around the audience, letting them influence and put their own spin on proceedings.
In short, a mesmeric, memorable and guttural performance. They storm Mello Mello on July 5. It comes highly recommended.
For most others, Evil Blizzard would be a tough act to follow but for The Fall, it’s just another day at the office. Opening with a newbie, giving Smith time to amble on stage shortly thereafter, as is his trademark, they quickly blazed through a run of The Sonics’ classic and long-standing Fall favourite Strychnine.
The Fall have never been ones to convey an image, or lean on an aesthetic to mask any musical shortcomings.
This is reflected in the normalcy of their line-up; Pete Greenway (guitar), Dave Spurr (bass) and Keiron Melling (drums) look like your average workaday blokes.
That’s not a slight on them by any stretch, as their tight playing (honed by an unusual stability in the line-up) does the talking for them. Only Elena Poulou, Smith’s wife and keyboard player, provides the glam; her lean beauty contrasted in almost comical fashion by her refusal to remove her large, thick coat.
A slew of hand and shopping bags lie at her feet and hang from the keyboards. She looked as if she might bolt at any moment. Lucky for us, she didn’t.
Smith, ever the unpredictable chap he is, was on fine form on this occasion. Regularly reaching out to slap and shake hands with the baying mob in front of him as his band tore through juggernauts like Bury, Theme From Sparta FC and left the singing duties to Poulou for I’ve Been Duped.
Leaving centre stage once or twice, he sat down to the side, rifling through reams of lyric sheets or sometimes to just leaving the next line to whatever was on his mind at the time.
Never a group to do things by halves, an 11-minute encore of Reformation followed, which saw your intrepid suffer a broken rib (the full agony of which only reared its head the following morning) owing to a crush at the front.
There was even a chance to shine as the mic was handed over to the crowd, granting Getintothis the chance to fulfil a dream held since our teenage years and, if only for a fleeting moment, become another addition to The Fall’s incredibly long ex-members list. Look, Smith once famously said ‘if it’s me and yer granny on bongos, it’s a Fall gig’, so it counts. Don’t ruin the dream, alright?
A few minutes later and they were gone. The house lights went up, people filed out but…here they came again, curfew and good grace be damned. A sprightly rendition of the Big Bopper’s White Lightning came and went as fast as the name implies. This time they disappeared for good.
Unlike us mere mortals, The Fall will never die. The self-styled ‘Hip Priest’ and his sermons will live on far longer than we will ever comprehend. They are The Fall; northern white crap that talks back.