May 9th 2013
It’s a sad reflection on the state of our musical culture but some people have never seen The Fall play live so idp went to the York gig with his camera to rectify the omission and see if the legends are true.
It’s my first Fall gig and my first time at Fibbers in York. I am filling a serious gap in my musical CV on both counts. It’s not that I don’t like the Fall. It’s just that I’ve never been to one of their shows and in fairness they never come to any of mine.
Fibbers is hard to find – a nondescript entrance tucked away underneath a sixties brutalist eyesore. This being York I had been expecting something Roman, or mediaeval at least. It’s a proper old-fashioned rock venue of the kind that are disappearing fast – cramped, dark and minimal. Music and beer. Beer and music. Anything else is just frippery.
The tiny stage is dominated by a huge piece of Western comic book art and several large pairs of eyes which stare down from the backcloth – possibly the five lesser known members of the Eckleburg sextuplets. The only concessions to comfort are a dozen armchairs lined against the wall. When I arrive they are all occupied by large men in black and denim who look straight ahead and do not speak to each other or make eye contact. I hope they have come to enjoy the show. They look as though they have come to collect a debt as a favour for a friend.
It’s a serious crowd – people come a long way to follow The Fall and I feel like a novice among experts. The people to my right are discussing Fall gigs from the early 1990’s. Later they play the game of identifying every song from the first few notes of the intro which is great for me because there is no way I can name every song played so I wig in and jot down the setlist. I resolve that if asked I will give the number of gigs I have attended before as seven. That’s enough not to seem like a dilettante without the risk of anyone saying Well I’ve never seen you. Some people here will have been to hundreds if not thousands of Fall gigs and own even more albums. I also resolve that I will on no account mention the rather favourable review I have just given the new Tullycraft album.
Openers are York garage punk duo And The Hangnails – loud, abrasive and fast paced, great percussion and some compelling riffs and they get most of the crowd to their feet and listening. This is quite an achievement – I have been on the bulletin boards and seen how scathing Fall fans can be of the local support – George Formby at Clitheroe didn’t go down well.
At ten sharp The Fall amble onto the stage – launching the set with Victrola Time from the new album Re-Mit, followed by Strychnine and then Hot Cake from 2010’s Your Future Our Clutter. Re-Mit songs dominate the set as the single Sir William Wray, Hittite Man and Loadstones all make appearances along with crowd pleasers such as White Lightning and Bury.
The present Fall line up is now five years old and according to many fans they’re one of the best. Certainly on the night they are impressively tight and Mark E Smith is in a playful, benevolent mood, sharing the microphone and getting into conversation with the crowd mid song, leaning in to add a few bonus notes on Elana Poulou’s keyboards, occasionally disappearing from view altogether to take a seat in the wings, warbling and chuntering more or less incomprehensibly.
Smith is one of those performers that you just can’t take your eyes off – constantly in motion, getting tangled in the equipment, teasing the crowd with a wide range of gestures and facial expressions. Sometimes he adopts an almost schoolmasterly posture, arch and ironic, with his head tilted back and eyebrow raised as if listening for the hundredth time to a dog and homework story, at others he snarls and spits lyrics venomously or surveys the assembled company with a look of amused bewilderment as if he has momentarily forgotten why we are all here and he is wondering why all these people are in his living room. But there is always a sense of deliberateness and knowingness to his performance – for a man who is the studied antithesis of the preening and posturing rock star it seems pretty certain that very little of what he does is spontaneous or accidental. You don’t become this casual without working hard at it.
Highlights include Loadstones which is embellished with some funky bass from Dave Spurr while Smith leans into the sea of hands clutching the microphone two-handed like a loud hailer and a rocking I’ve Been Duped with Poulou taking the vocals and delivering some heavy feedback from the keyboards. White Lightning gets the room singing along – I am aware that it’s the song first timers love but real afficionados are somewhat sniffy about, so I try to look as though I’ve seen it played loads of times before and would really rather have something obscure that no one has ever heard before.
The set is punctuated on several occasions when the band leave the stage without warning, (leaving the crew to wrestle the equipment from the eager hands of the front row), only to return after two or three minutes rest, until they bring the show to a close with Sparta, a potent Mr Pharmacist and Blindness after which they leave again and they don’t come back.