Saturday, May 15, 2010

The Fall Birmingham Academy 2 - 11th May 2010

I didn't get the new album until after the gig, so it was just like the old days ...a Fall gig where I didn't know many of the songs. It's a healthy turnout and looks like a veteran Fall audience who've probably seen a fair few Fall gigs. Although surprisingly there's a sprinkling of younger recruits too.

After 33 years we probably know roughly what we're going to get. The line up may change, the wife in the band may change and the sound changes too. Some years it's a bit more Beefheart, sometimes more Rockabilly or electronic but there is still always a distinctive Fall sound, even before Mark E Smith starts to sing...or more as he put it on Dragnet’s Your Heart out "I don't sing I just shout-all on one note ahh".

There’s a backdrop with “Unseen Knowledge” scrawled across it (made more sense once I’d bought the album…but then I never really cracked “Undilutable Slang Truth”) and the line up is bass, drums guitar and Mrs Smith (Eleni Poulou) on keyboards. The current album Your Future Our Clutter is the second with this line up. In Fall terms this line up it's positively U2 in terms of stability and longevity. No drummers were punched onstage and no band members were sacked for dancing to Rock The Casbah.

There's still plenty of room for disruption though.

Smith, who seemed like he'd been catapulted out of the stage door, was wearing a blue shirt and what looked like leather blazer. He immediately grabbed 2 mics and a stand and got down to the business of shouting at traffic. Cue jutting out elbows, the dilemma of how to control 3 things with 2 hands and constant fiddling and feedback. Typical Smith. Ever the irritant and bugger the soundman.

Smith’s made a career out of using hand cupping, megaphones, Dictaphones and kazoos to make his horrible hectoring voice even more unpleasant. But that voice does draw you in. Knowing the songs isn't necessarily any help in knowing what he's singing about though. You get the impression he doesn't like anything much though - except for malt whisky and WW2.

The drums on the opening song Our Future Your Clutter are immense. This line-up is lean, efficient and relentless. A combine harvester scything down everything in it's path and spewing out Smithspeak There's nothing subtle about Eleni Poulou’s keyboards either. She's found the squelch button and turned on the Dr Who filter.

Hot cake has got EP's "ahh ahh ahh ooh" backing vocals and funnily enough they don't sound remotely Pop.

Smith's jacket was on and off all night (yes there are more complex stage shows, you know the one’s that are carried across Europe on huge trucks, rather than on a coat hanger) but he did wait until the Rockabilly twang of Cowboy George before having his first amp fiddle. Ah yes, Smith's favourite trick to try to unsettle the guitarist...he may call it Man Management to coax out a better performance.... he may just call it messing about.

Eleni Poulou sang I’ve Been Duped, from 2008's Imperial Wax Solvent but a very fidgety Smith, had been singing not just with his back to the audience but actually backing into the stage exit. On the opening night in Edinburgh, he had only lasted 6 songs leaving the band trying to carry on without him. Last song of the Birmingham’s better value set was Weather Report 2. In Fall terms it's actually quite a haunting if not downright beautiful song and the lyric "You gave me back my life,” echoes the 20 year old song Bill Is Dead which was his last attempt at crooning

The encores caught me completely by surprise. Psykick Dancehall with it's "Is there anybody there-yeah" intro, (I don’t think I was the only one who found there was a "yeah” reflex I didn't know I had) and Theme From Sparta FC. Peel Show favourite and car advert. For a band as contrary as the Fall, it was the greatest hits equivalent of doing a medley of Hi Ho Silver Lining, Come On Eileen and Beatles No 1's. Smith did actually sing most of Sparta FC from the dressing room though.

So there we go.... another Fall gig. I've seen dozens and there's usually something memorable about even the worst ones. But this was a good one.

The new album is definitely worth a punt. There'll be a different line-up next time round, but they'll still be The Fall.

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