Tuesday, July 31, 2007

"the only thing real is waking and rubbing your eyes": four fall gigs, two weddings and a festival

the festival was all good, it being this year's "rise: london united" at finsbury park (our city's second best annual shindig, behind carnival of course). rise is esp. brilliant for us, because we can leave the premises to go for an afternoon wander via highbury fields and the blackstock road and, without breaking our stride, enjoy a walk in the park which gives us everything from saint etienne thru a flurry of nw6 hard-rhymers thru some premier dhol-bashing thru dodging the rain with kojo in the comedy tent thru a turn from dorothy masuka thru to some startling human beatboxery from sic sense thru to pop princess jamelia on the main stage, whose beam lit up north four even through one of the intermittent storms (and even if her choice of covers paled in relation to the likes o' "superstar" and "thank you"). plus, with the whole rise thing, the message remains much more important than the music. the weddings, one in chelsea and one in carlisle, weren't bad either - and on a positive note, statistically only one of them is going to end in divorce.

anyway. it's closing on 20 years since we first saw the fall. and here we went again, to their brief residency in smoke-free islington this balmy yet rainsodden july, albeit at one of the world's worst venues("the" "carling" "academy").

tuesday

hmmm. let's dig out the old "i-spy at a fall gig" book. smith ambles on tardily (10 points) to join his latest youthful hired-hand band (20 points), plus the wife on keyboards (10 points). he laconically intones "we are the fall" in an absurdist drawl (35 points). that's 75 points in the bag already, and they've only been on a few minutes.

as the evening progresses, we get mark wandering on and off stage intermittently, testing the band's improvisation as they wonder quite where he is (25 points); mark randomly plinking on keyboards (10 points); mark turning up the bass amp (15 points); mark turning down the guitar amp (15 points); the fall not coming on until well after 10 p.m (25 points); a put-upon soundman having to make repeated fleeting visits to stage to replace all the mic stands (20 points). and yet for all these ticked boxes and smile-inducing nods to fall tradition, that soupcon of something extra - that unpredictable element that would elevate proceedings, really flicker them truly into life - never quite emerges. all in all, it's good - but it's not right. still, a promising start: and an ok-ish fall gig is still better than a lot of mercury music prize nominees could ever aspire to.

top 3 select: over! over!, white lightning, what about us. ilwttisott rating: 6 out of 10

wednesday

the fall, of course, never have to resort to plundering their back catalogue
like many other similarly-annuated bands - almost uniquely from the crop of '77 or so they have kept going (as paul morley has noted, perhaps the only others to have meaningfully done so are u2), and have always had songs strong enough to be able to build their live sets, in any era, from the last album (or two). these gigs are proving no exception, with the live performances of the likes of "the door is always open" transcending their somewhat anodyne studio cousins.

having said that, it is still a tremendous treat to see them dredging out "the man whose head expanded" for the first time in a decade or two, even though they fox half the punters by coming on stage "early" (about ten to ten) and playing it first. "sounded good in rehear-SAL", observes mark. suitably inspired, both band and audience are a little more at ease. and, particularly with a respectable phalanx of new songs, we're starting to notice improbably, happily, increasingly strong resemblances between the fall and sportique - probably the way some of the newer fall songs are also postmodern appropriations of punk (the single-chord chugging of "systematic abuse" recalls the knowing retro of "modern museums", while elena's "i've been duped", which seemingly doesn't feature smith at all, is a belter - perhaps their "suture").

oh, and yes we still get everything from the i-spy book too. the fall are
rapidly shifting up thru the gears.

top 3 select: the man whose head expanded, fall sound, reformation! ilwttisott rating: 7 out of 10

thursday

and each night, gradually, is getting a little more lively.

on stage, m.e.s. is in a happy, serene mood (itself as rare and surreal as father jack hackett's lucid episodes), his wanders around the stage including jokes traded with the band, forcing the bass player to centre stage for "duped", and repeatedly picking up a drumstick to frantically thrash at the hi-hat and cymbal. a few well-thumbed lyric sheets are in evidence, while there are more extended forays over to the keyboards, including what appears to be an attempt to actually play them (50 points). later on, a couple of the mics are tossed into the crowd, one of whom performs an entertaining and more than passable freestyle m.e.s. impersonation, spitting out random lyrics from past delights, while the other settles for valiant, drunken yelling. tonight only the embattled stagehand feels the wrath of smith's er, bombast, when he bravely but very ill-advisedly attempts to do the mic stand adjusting while smith is on stage. ooh, and we also have a vague recollection that the lyrics to late-70s peel sesh gem "like to blow" got randomly blurted out at some point.

off stage, the rowdiness initially builds up as ever due to the epic wait for the fall to appear, combined with the associated crescendo of abuse towards safi, the "video-jock" who habitually precedes them. during the main set, the number of pints of lager being hurled across the venue and at the stage is also increasing, although still nowhere near historic fall gig levels: and by the time we leave, a couple of blokes at the back are trading opening pushes in yet another fight that demonstrates why middle-aged men and alcohol can be a thoroughly unhappy combination. we escape by jumping on a passing bus, on which a teenage passenger promptly sicks lager all over the floor: but that, dear friends, is modern britain in a nutshell.

top 3 select: wolf kidult man, systematic abuse, blindness. ilwttisott rating: 9 out of 10

friday

"we're not the fucking kaiser chiefs, we are the fall"

yes, friday was blazin'. the fact they opened their set with a more than
competent version of "wings", still probably the best song from a veritable bayeaux tapestry of thousands, was a moment immediately putting tonight up there with brighter @ the b&g, morrissey @ brixton, fucking rosehips @ stoke and rovers @ wembley.

and you know it's gonna be a fair old gig when "pacifying joint" then starts up, smith remembers to remind us that they are the fall, and then he just stands up and takes it as the beer rains in, letting plastic pint glasses bounce off him without blinking (indeed, licking his fingers approvingly at the choice of projectile lager).

the venue's population density has continued to multiply during the week. by now, as the five-piece lock in to their relentlessly garagey grooves, the place is jammed, almost enough to take the edge off some commendably fierce air conditioning. professional fall fan stewart lee was in attendance: sadly, celebrity fall fans otherwise seemed to have been conspicuous by their absence during the week (for our purposes, other "celebrity fall fans" = i ludicrous, bobby gillespie (who we chatted with before he tried to blag his way in last time), bobby wratten and two of the gresham flyers, but do let us know if there are more).

so, even with tonight seeing two encores rather than one (and a tremendous take on "systematic abuse" for which the entire vocal was provided from somewhere behind the stage - "i'm in the backstage areAH"), the evening positively flew by. and by now, big chief i-spy was likely to have been cleaned out of feathers entirely.

top 3 select: WINGS, fall sound, systematic abuse. ilwttisott rating: infinite.

y'know, we don't really disagree with much of the critique oft ventured toward the fall - most is probably fair comment, albeit informed by a somewhat rose-tinted view of their past proficiency, or at least their past consistency... but we do truly see them in the context of so much else we love - remembering how it was in our ever-splendrous inspiration "are you scared to be happy ?" that we first saw written down the quote from "how i wrote elastic man" that captions this post...

so even if we'd probably agree that they hit their creative peak between 1980 and 1983 (if in any doubt, check "palace of swords reversed" or "slates, slags etc"), and even if we are among many who felt that their last lp didn't do them justice, none of this is relevant to whether or not they are a band worth watching, even celebrating, in 2007. they've always had a few troughs, but unlike new order or suchlike, who slipped into a creative coma circa 1990, smith's mob have always navigated their way through. beforehand, we had wondered whether four fall gigs in a row might seem a bit much - but in the end the answer, of course, was that it was not nearly enough.

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