The Fall, Islington Assembly Hall, 6 December 2012
Even 35 years in, there are legions of Fall naysayers. To be fair to most, they know about the Fall, and have heard a few of the songs, but tend to dismiss the band along the lines of, "it's just some mad bloke shouting over what is frankly a bit of a racket in the background". This is, of course true in itself, but not the whole truth: it's equivalent to saying "football is just some blokes kicking a pig's bladder about", or "Shakespeare was just some bloke scribbling words with a quill". Still, we respect the naysayers' (wrong) opinion. This post is dedicated to them.
Tonight is another triumph, a TR7 perhaps, although unlike last night's smooth curve of improvement it's more of a rollercoaster. The band all look rather dapper, as if they've been co-ordinated: save for Elena they're all wearing dark outfits, Smith in particular much smarter in his black leather jacket. We also realise why he seems quite so old now: it's because there's now a visible bald patch coming, although for a man in his mid-fifties he didn't do badly in keeping all his hair 'til now. For her part, Elena tonight has not one but two handbags (of differing sizes) by her side, along with a couple of very full-looking carrier bags. We never find out what's in them, sadly.
After a particularly long wait for Mark to join the rest of them (indeed, he waits until the second song is underway) the set unravels itself as similar to last time, and so is imbued with newies of varying promise (there must be a new LP imminent: they clearly have the material for it), but inamongst them the like of "Hot Cake" and "Strychnine" are picked up by the scruff of the neck early on, blitzing the recorded versions and providing real excitement earlier than it arrived yesterday. And "Bury" is not only discernible, but *on fire*, Mark and Elena incandescent with zeal as they scream, "I'm not from Bury!" out across the Hall.
There's no "I've Been Duped" this evening, but there is another "Container Drivers" (yay) and, again, that's the song that brings the crowd alive (and brings M.E.S. out from the cosy chair, behind the guitarist's amp, that he found yesterday). As he hogs centre stage, he is clearly relishing the moment, the validation of a song from "Grotesque" having stood the test of time: each "roll on, roll off" is a particular joy. Even better, tonight 1986's (very) minor hit "Mr Pharmacist" gets thrown in to the proceedings, picking up the cue of last night's audience karaoke and proving that the two-minute high-tensile pelter still has a role to play in a Fall set; and they decide to treat us to "Reformation" too, one of the four certified highlights from the otherwise not completely er, whelming "Post-Reformation TLC" and which, even by Fall standards, is pretty minimal in structure (mmm, as we noted here when it came out in single form):
"comes as close as a song can to packaging the chimera that is ESSENCE OF FALL into one place. as we've hinted before, it is a hulking, bristling monster which basically consists of taking a two-note bassline, and then running with it uninterrupted for the next seven minutes or so"
But for the second evening in a row the set proper closes with "Blindness" and it is, it really is, a tour de force, a song that we would happily have them play approx. forever (yes we know that many of you, had you been there, might have observed drily that it already felt like it had gone on forever). There's not just tampering with the guitarist's amp tonight: Smith also plays the cymbals with his mic, and wanders intermittently over to the keyboard to "play" it while Elena tries her damnedest not to look too annoyed.
The encore ? Well, tonight undistracted by flying beer, Elena cheerfully introduces Dragnet's "Psykick Dancehall" with "is there anybody there ?", the crowd respond with the necessary "YEAH" and for the second time we're taken back to the Fall's heyday. They follow "Dancehall" with a rollicking "What About Us ?" (like "Blindness", a classically repetitive Fall song taken from their prime 21st century LP "Fall Heads Roll" to send us out into the rainy night.
It's been a blast, truly. You're not going to like this, but they probably are the second best band in the world.