Dave Graney was a low key opener to the evening, on stage as a three piece with bassist and guitarist. His blues-tinged songs were in equal measures humorous and poignant, and the slow paced delivery mirrored the claustrophobic heat enveloping the venue early in the night.
In between Graney and the main act, an unknown DJ (his name not listed on the night’s acts) entertained with video-based electronic amusements. It’s not often one would see a Lady Gaga video before Mark E Smith takes the stage but there’s a first time for everything. The DJ overstayed his welcome by the time he began spinning Barbara Streisand, but luckily the sudden hush and shutting down of lights meant the time for the headliner had arrived.
It’s hard to discuss The Fall in a collective sense; what it feels like and frankly, looks like on stage, is Mark E Smith and band. Smith is still as terrifying a stage presence as ever, silently holding court clad in black from head to toe. His band is tighter than one could imagine, though the interaction between any individual on stage is minimal. Smith wanders about as if in his living room, flipping switches on amps, playing random keys on the synthesiser, slamming his mic against the cymbals or simply holding the frets on his bandmate’s guitar, as if scolding without speaking. It is part of the spectacle, and the rapt audience of dedicated The Fall fans lapped up his controlling gestures.
His voice was lost in the sound mix, as he often held two mics to his face to amplify himself as he sung through songs mostly taken from this year’s Our Future, Your Clutter. Considering the infamous output of The Fall it is no surprise that the setlist was a mixed bag, though favourite Theme From Sparta F.C. perked up the audience after a number of droning, guitar driven songs.
The heat having fully engulfed the venue, it seemed to have an effect on band and audience alike. Languid and hazy, Smith spent the show strolling about the stage, muttering and rambling, sporadically screaming in the right moment, while his band seemed to telepathically synchronise on songs like Strychnine.
The Fall are not who they were thirty years ago, then again, who is? Mark E Smith remains the interesting centrepiece of a band that is really just a vehicle to sharing his own unique brand of madness and neuroticism.