The Fall
at The Robin 2

After three decades of curmudgeonly scowling, has Mark E Smith finally earned the right to act like James Brown? Martin Longley treks to the UK's West Midlands to find out...

By Martin Longley

Could this be the beginning of Mark E Smith's love affair with The Robin R&B Club? He's back here again, so soon after the last time, strangely at home in front of the venue's stage banner, choosing this hallowed hall-of-denim to open The Fall's first 2008 tour (there will doubtless be many more this year). Just as we assumed that these dates would still be pushing last year's Reformation Post TLC album, lo!, yet another disc is heralded: the band's 637th. At the end of April, out oozes Imperial Wax Solvent, snappily coinciding with the publication of Mark E Smith's autobiography, Renegade: The Lives And Times Of Mark E Smith. This one should make for a compulsive (and hopefully indecipherable) read.

The Fall breeze onstage with remarkable precision, apart, of course, from their leader. Instruments are straight away geared into riffing overdrive, building up for the entrance of Mister James Br..., er, sorry, Mister Mark Smith. The TLC album was noticeable for the churning tightness of its players, its chief weakness being an off-form MES. Often, it's been the other way around, with a slack combo meandering 'experimentally'. This evening, both sides exude equal strength. When Smith sidles onstage, his crow-like bingo master demeanour belies the tense crackling that's about to spit forth from his cud-masticating lips. It's hot in here, and our leader's black leather car coat is soon tossed aside, the shirt-sleeved one twitching up to his selection of microphones. Like a grimacing tot, he thinks everyone else's tastes better than his own. Making a chugging start, My Door Is Never still harks back to the last album, but The Fallsters will soon be unveiling fresher material, Smith clutching his latest sheaf of wet-inked lyrics. One of the strongest new songs appears to be called I'm Duped (or I've Been Duped) and features Elena Poulou on lead vocals, whilst Smith amuses himself by invading her Korg synthesiser knobs. Indeed, our leader is everywhere, still enjoying his habit of disabling all of his guitarists' amplifier settings, and even physically shifting the bassist's neck out of the way (his instrument's neck, not his fleshy neck). This cavalier control might be a dubious practise, but maybe MES has earned the right to act like James Brown, after over three decades of curmudgeonly scowling. Have you ever witnessed a band leader physically move his pawns around? The pay off is that Smith's techniques all have the desirable effect of increasing the tension, often through such minimal actions. He's on particularly sharp form tonite, spitting and snarling in indecipherable tongues, hardly attempting to 'sing' melodically, which is a practise that can sometimes be his downfall. These days, Smith always seems to dictate that sets are very short, gesturing to Poulou that it's time to get her coat. The guitarists exchange glances: is it over? When shall we finish this song? Fear not, Smith wants to oblige with an encore or two. The Fall continue their recent show of live strength, even whilst retaining a veering sense of the predictably unpredictable.

UK Tour Spring 2008

04 Mar     The Robin 2, Bilston
05 Mar     Union Society, Newcastle
06 Mar     Corporation, Sheffield
07 Mar     Carling Academy, Liverpool
09 Mar     The Point, Cardiff
12 Mar     Astoria, London
16 Mar     Tripod, Dublin
17 Mar     Carling Academy, Oxford
19 Mar     Roadmender, Northampton
20 Mar     Stylus, Leeds
21 Mar     Maxwell Hall, University of Salford
24 Mar     The Welly, Hull
26 Mar     The Dome, Morecambe
27 Mar     The Iron Works, Inverness
29 Mar     The Ferry, Glasgow
30 Mar     The Ferry Glasgow 

 Renegade: The Lives and Tales of Mark E. Smith will be published by Viking on May 1st 2008, priced £18.99.
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