The legendary British DJ John Peel was always one step ahead of musical trends, and was the initial champion for now-seminal bands like The Smiths, Nirvana and The White Stripes.
But when asked who his favourite band was, he named The Fall, a shambolic post-punk band from Manchester who only achieved minor hit singles in the late 1980s. The reason? Because “they are always different, always the same.”
Over thirty-one studio albums and despite an ever-changing line up time has not rendered this quote irrelevant. Now some forty years after The Fall was first founded, the same words could be used to sum up their performance at The Powerstation on Saturday night.
The latest incarnation (Peter Greenway on guitar, David Spurr on bass, Kieron Mulling on Drums and Elena Poulou on keys and vocals) traipsed onstage shortly after 10pm, setting up an abrasive wall of sound before Mark.E.Smith, the ringleader and only original member of The Fall came out to rapturous applause. Dressed in neatly pressed pants, a subdued button-up and a leather blazer he looked like a respectable chap- albeit one that was in need of a wardrobe update. Mumbling and swaying he ditched the jacket and launched into a set list that relied very heavily on the last three albums, including The Fall’s latest entitled Sub Lingual Tablet EP.
Mark. E .Smith once famously declared “if it’s me and your Granny on the bongos, then it’s The Fall.” Indeed what has and clearly continues to make The Fall great is the juxtaposition between Mark.E.Smith and who he is performing with at the time. Smith is an easy man to misunderstand, both literally and as an artist. As the lyricist for a band named after an Albert Camus novel, it is befitting that Smith’s words are cryptically academic, but tempered with a wryly absurd sense of humour. Often reading them off a sheet of paper, he delivers his words so incoherently that the tightness of the band seems wasteful to the uninitiated. Smith acts as the chaotic counterpoint to their organised precision and it is this tension that makes The Fall such a great live show in particular. This has become a large part of Smith’s onstage persona. People expect that he will wander offstage (leaving Poulou and Spurr on vocal duties) fiddle with amps, pound keys, and use as many microphones as he can get his hands on- and all of that was on restrained display at The Powerstation. Trying to push his bands live musical boundaries could be seen as part of his artistic process, and a refreshing contrast to cut and paste pop shows. While this can occasionally lead to confusion-the band suddenly left the stage forty minutes into their performance only to return less than five minutes later- but it’s idiosyncratic of the man and his band.
For their encore they played two covers-White Lightening by The Big Bopper and Mr. Pharmacist by The Other Half. By this stage the eclectic crowd was whipped into a frenzy, jostling and shoving each other ecstatically as they revelled in the predictable unpredictability of The Fall, which, for a fan is about as much as you can ask for.