A healthy Tuesday night crowd is on-hand to greet the return of the ever compelling spectacle that is Manchester post-shambolic institutions The Fall, once famously described by sadly departed English disc jockey John Peel with the words "they are always different; they are always the same". The ultimate 'cult band', the group themselves are essentially a support ensemble for the eccentricities of their prune faced leader, the hip-priest himself, Mark E Smith.
Entering the stage with shirt tucked into old mans trousers and sporting an oversize leather jacket, Smith leers, squints, and randomly wanders the stage. During one track he reads from random lyrics scrawled on pieces of paper before tossing them out into the crowd. At other times he heads over to the onstage amps and proceeds to randomly fiddle with all of the knobs, before unflappable guitarist and long time (in Fall terms) band member Pete Greenway restores order to equipmental proceedings.
Faif'ish keyboardist and backing vocalist Elena Poulou, who also doubles as Smith's current flame (another classic Mark E Smith case of beauty and the beast!), is not spared from such moments of on-stage sabotage either, Smith at one point readjusting her microphone and leaning over to randomly stab out keyboard notes as he sees fit. It's as though a drunken Andy Capp has randomly wandered onstage, and in the hands of most anyone else such antics would be a cringe-worthy cackle. Yet somehow Smith's anti posturing, channeling everything that a front man is not supposed to be, is about the most unique and transfixing spectacle one could envisage.
As for the music, well it's an impressive feat that a band with such an extensive, high quality and cherished back catalogue can still create an utterly compelling live experience by playing tracks almost solely from their far less recognised more recent albums. The shambolic tendencies of early period Fall have largely been superseded by the current incarnation, who as a musical entity are fish rectum tight. Repetitious and prone to fits of abrasion, they churn out a mantra like groove of Kraut Rock proportions for large swathes of the set whilst Smith unfurls his uniquely non-conformist, stream of consciousness style acerbic narratives.
2015 release Sub Lingual Tablet features most heavily, with Venice With The Girls, Junger Cloth and Dedication Not Medication all getting the Fall live treatment, in addition to a brand new song, Wise Old Man. About three quarters of the way through I'm able to actually make out a few words from the murk of Smiths between song garble..."We are The Fall', before a few highly treasured back catalogue scraps are tossed under the table. Fan fave Theme From Sparta FC gets the disciples into an animated lather, and another perennial live staple from the archives, 60's garage nugget Mr Pharmacist, is also dusted off, a base song made even baser in the hands of tonight's puritans..
One curt encore later and they're gone, leaving those gathered to go "wtf?" and "wow!" in equal measure...long may The Fall continue to challenge and confound.
By Anthony Gebhardt