Posts Tagged ‘The Fall’

Christopher Nosnibor

Any longstanding fan of The Fall accepts that inconsistency is not only par for the course, but part of the band’s enduring charm. The appeal of Mark E Smith, and, by default, The Fall, has always been a perverse one: revered by fans, loathed by pretty much everyone else, The Fall are the epitome of singularity. Recent years have seen them hit an uncharacteristic groove: the core of the current lineup has been in place for the best part of a decade now, and while it’s yielded some fine moments, there’s not been anything to touch the quality of Fall Heads Roll in 2005. I’d been reluctant to take a £25 punt on them delivering a decent show but when a friend who was unable to attend offered me his ticket, I joyfully accepted. Because it’s The Fall after all.

Tonight’s lineup makes perfect sense: local support and Aural Aggro faves Soma Crew are all about the motoric beats and plugging away at repetitive riffs, and having been gaining momentum of late, this is a big night for them. They certainly rise to the occasion: given the opportunity to play a full-length set to a substantial and receptive crowd, they meld together as a unit and crank out a set of psychedelic krautrock grandeur. One of the band’s more recent recruits, bassist Andy Wiles, brings movement and dynamism to the stage act, and they rock out hard amidst a tumult of FX-laden guitars and thumping mechanoid drums. No fills, nothing fancy, just a relentless groove.

Soma Crew

Soma Crew

The Fall – when they finally appear on stage some time around quarter past ten – hit a fairly solid, if uninspired – groove, too. Smith looks unsteady as he navigates the path onto the stage and tries out a couple of different mics. Against the LED backdrop, which I watched countless men well into their 40s and 50 be photographed before the show, they crank out a set which promisingly features a snarling rendition of ‘Wolf Kidult Man’ early on, but from thereon focuses exclusively on recent – and seemingly unreleased – material. In itself, it’s standard Fall.

The Fall 1

The Fall

But while fans reach out and grab his leather blazer-style jacket in adulation and the substantial mosh-pit goes nuts, it strikes me that all is not well with MES. To criticise him for being unintelligible, for pissing about with mics, the guitar settings, well, it’s redundant. It’s what he does. The first time I saw The Fall in ’94 at the cavernous York Barbican, touring Cerebral Caustic with the classic twin-drummer lineup: neither drum kit had any mics before the set was out and it sounded awful to begin with. But it’s small wonder bassist Dave Spurr stands so close to his amp, as it guarding it from marauders: Smith repeatedly silences Pete Greenway’s guitar, and drum mics – and well as cymbals – are tossed over and about the stage at will, and of course Smith spends much of the show dicking about with mics. One mic, two mics, radio mic, wired mic, backing vocal mic, spare mic.

The Fall 2

The Fall

If it were any other band, the venue would have emptied after three songs. People would be concerned for the singer. But it’s MES. He’s a legend! But as he wavers and slurs, hollering unintelligibly, by turns gurning toothlessly, lolling his thick tongue and sucking his gums, it all feels far from legendary. Smith’s performing, throwing poses, tinkering absently with atonal keys, doing all the things he does, but he doesn’t seem entirely present, and oftentimes, he looks quite lost. Like an ageing grandparent with slowly advancing Alzheimer’s, there’s something sad about his performance.

The Fall 3

The Fall

Standing on a stage awash with beer, Smith removes his leather coat. He then passes his mic into the audience (who sound better than he does); he then collects the coat he’s just removed and leaves the stage unsteadily. He returns, wearing the coat again, and, looking lost, begins hollering through his hands until someone in the front row picks up the mic that was returned to the stage in his absence. He looks grateful, and begins to holler and drawl into the mic instead.

With the recent material being very much one tempo and one dimension, the music, while well-played, fails to really grip the attention, a problem exacerbated by Smith’s non-stop sonic sabotage. Without any real standout tracks (‘Reformation’? ‘Sir William Wray’? Forget it), everything blurs into one stodgy sequence of stocky but forgettable riffs.

Fall Set

The Fall’s Setlist

The first encore fails to offer any back-catalogue excitement, but they finally end the set with a second encore in the form of a solid but unremarkable (and rather hurried-sounding) stomp through ‘Mr Pharmacist’.

But it’s not the lack of back-catalogue material that’s the issue here. The Fall, who for all time have been lauded and adored as the most essential band by virtue of their unwillingness to conform or to bend in the face of trends, feel depressingly lacking in relevance (in contrast to peers Killing Joke, who played the same venue only a couple of weeks ago). The blame must sit squarely with Smith: lacking in focus and, seemingly, a real sense of where he’s at, the show felt awkward, confused, uncoordinated and generally underwhelming, and Soma Crew were definitely the better act on the night.

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Christopher Nosnibor

Six years ago, I saw Eagulls, alongside Cold Ones, supporting Cerebral Ballzy at A Nation of Shopkeepers in Leeds. Cold Ones were pretty awful but Eagulls were, to be blunt, utterly fucking gash, and I vowed never to see of hear them again if I could possibly help it. It’s a vow I’ve kept until now: there was no way I was going to pass up on Protomartyr playing practically on my doorstep as part of a co-headlining tour.

We’d been advised to get don early doors (7:30) as York (and now Leeds) perennials Fawn Spots were scheduled to play at 7:45 ahead of a 10:30 finish. In the event, I arrived at 7:35 to find a guy with a guitar, miniature keyboard and massive rack of pedals set up in front of the stage in the process of building a layered, loop-based sound that straddled post-rock, post-punk and shoegaze, with some tendencies toward whappy time signatures and general fiddling. It’s really rather good, and on the strength of this brief outing, 99 Watts from Darlington warrants further exploration.

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99 Watts

Fawn Spots are a band I’ve spent a long time exploring, and they’ve evolved so much over the course of their career. Having stated out as a snotty two-piece reliant more on attitude than ability, their debut album, released on Fire Records was testament to their blossoming into a thrashy post-punk powerhouse. Now free of the label and into their next phase, tonight’s set showcases material from in-progress album number two. It’s a new sound again, amalgamating elements of mid-80s Cure, Echo and the Bunnymen and Julian Cope. Early in the set, Oliver’s guitar playing sounds like Marty McFly at the prom, but fortunately, it’s just one broken and one out of turn string rather than a disappearing hand to blame. A switch of guitar later, he’s back to form, and while the songs are yet to bed in fully, it’s clear the next album will be a blinder.

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Fawn Spots

All of Protomartyr’s albums to date have been belters, and the reception they get shows just what an ardent fan base they’ve built with them. The kids – and they are kids – down the front are flopping and flapping uncoordinately, fringes drooping. And they know every single bloody word. It must be gratifying to see, though you’d never gauge it from the faces on the stage: three IT guys in jeans and t-shirts, fronted by their frustrated manager, a guy in his mid-to-late 30s and still in the beaten suit he wore to the office, churn out the tunes with passive expressions. If Mark E. Smith had been into US blues rock and discordant post-punk, The Fall would have sounded like this. While the deceptively detailed guitar parts are big on texture, the powerhouse drumming really drives the energy levels up, in contrast with Joe Casey’s downtrodden baritone grumblings. Repetition and dissonance are integral aspects of their angular sound, and it’s the fact they’re overtly uncool which makes them ultimately and ineffably cool.

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Protomartyr

Eagulls are bloody loud and crank out a dense wall of sound from behind a thick smog, silhouetted by stark lighting. Gone is the shambolic amateurism and apparent lack of identity of six years ago: the bands on stage are slick, confident, and it’s a straight fact that they sound fucking incredible. Immediately, The Cure and A Flock of (S)eagulls come to mind my way of reference points, and everything in their performance is immaculate. I feel like I’m experiencing first hand, at last, the spirit of gigging in 1985 (being born in 1975, I was simply too late to witness bands like The Cure and The Sisters of Mercy in their heyday.

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Eagulls

So why am I not absolutely feeling this, one hundred per cent, to my very marrow? Because it’s not 1985, it’s 2016. While everything about Eagulls is exactly right, it’s only a replica, a reproduction, out of time. It’s convincing, but it’s a carefully-studied fake. I’m not actually questioning their sincerity or integrity here, but their authenticity. Three songs in, and the rush of seeing such an accomplished performance has full hold: by seven songs, it’s becoming apparent that for all the style – and Eagulls have all the style when it comes to presentation – the content isn’t quite on the same level. It’s the same issue as I have with Department M: it’s meticulously observed, perfectly executed but lacking in soul and conviction.

Still, they do put on a show, and are deservedly well-received. But Protomartyr were always going to be the band of the night, and without doubt, they were.

Too Pure Singles Club – 30th September 2016

Christopher Nosnibor

I’ve been saying that Post War Glamour Girls are one of the best bands to have emerged from anywhere ever since I first clapped ears on their debut single, and never once have they disappointed since, thus justifying my opinion. Actually, it’s not an opinion, it’s a fact. And here they are on a split 7” in the mega-cool Too Pure Singles Club series on a Leeds showcase edition shared with Menace Beach. The occasion? The 45th anniversary of legendary Leeds record store, Jumbo Records. I’ve spent a fair few quid in there over the years, and the fact they’re still trading is a testament to the fact it’s as great an independent music outlet as you’ll find.

The two tracks couldn’t be more different: Menace Beach’s ‘Hex Breaker’ is a hazy, fuzzed-out lo-fi drifter, a mid-tempo slow-burner that sounds like it was recorded on a condenser mic. With laid-back vocal and hefty, plodding riff, it’s something of a departure from their conventional feedback-drenched motoric slacker indie. That said, it’s still a brilliantly loose performance and boasts an effortless melody that’s breezy and accessible. File alongside your early Pavement EPs if you do that ‘by style’ thing. If, like me, you file your vinyl alphabetically, you might struggle with this.

Despite what the title might suggest, the PWGG offering on the other side, ‘Welfare by Prozac’ is anything but sedated, a characteristically tense and angular burst of post-punk that’s over and done with in a fraction over three minutes. It packs so much in, too: a nagging, jangling rhythm guitar is cut by a howling angular lead. A stonking bassline and thumping tom-led drum track meld together to provide the backdrop to the contrasting vocals: Alice’s nonchalant monotone is the perfect counterpoint to James’ wired hectoring, calling to mind the best of Brix era Fall and then adding a twisted pop sensibility.

This is a perfect example of why 7” singles are cool, and why not only records, but the split single endure. A split MP3 release just doesn’t cut it.

 

PWGG Menace Beach Split

Christopher Nosnibor

Mark E Smith has oft claimed that everyone rips off The Fall. Mark Wynn even has a song about it, which does precisely that, entitled, appropriately, ‘Rip off The Fall’. While Smith’s claims are unquestionably exaggerated, the band’s influence is undeniably vast, and far exceeds the reach of their commercial success. One band who are unashamed in their ripping off of The Fall is Leeds / York-based combo The Wharf Street Galaxy band. But then, they only rip off The Fall inasmuch as they belong to the lineage of Can, Kraftwerk and The Fall, with a hefty dose of Public Image’s angular post-punk underpinned by dense, dubby basslines. Originally released as a three-track cassette (what else?), this expanded reissue features a brace of demos and a rehearsal recording.

A particularly Wobble-esque bass run kicks off the first track, ‘No Puffins for YOU Lad’, which finds northern churl Dave Proctor spilling a semi-abstract narrative that lurches on myriad detours in an increasingly tense and intense style that calls to mind the ranty racket of tracks like The Fall’s ‘Neighbourhood of Infinity’ and the vibe of earlier works like Perverted by Language. Angular and challenging, this is s what it’s all about, and even in 2016, this kind of stuff sounds every bit as antagonistic and uncomfortable as it did 30 years go.

The wandering spaghetti Western vibe of ‘Sergio Leone Comes to Keighly’ is suitably surreal, but grounded by a gritty Yorkshire sensibility, which essentially defines the WSGB. ‘Organised Freedom is Compulsory’ forges a monotonous groove, a long drone sustaining for some eight minutes over murky drumming and a chanted lyrical refrain of ‘Freedom is compulsory’. (I’m reminded of both The Fall and Scumbag Philosopher, another band who both rip off The Fall and have supported them, as well as Bauhaus, by the way in which the guitar serves to provide texture against the bass, instead of any kind of melody).

Of the additional tracks here – a brace of demos and a rehearsal recording – ‘Selfie Stick’ is sonically dark and lyrically savage and marks it as one of the band’s standout tracks.

But The Wharf Street Galaxy Band aren’t really about standout tracks, and as this debut EP demonstrates, they’re all about nagging away, bludgeoning the listener into submission with a blend of ragged guitar, urgent bass and hectic drumming while the vocals hector and harass.

Needless to say, I totally dig their scene. You know what you’re going to get, so go listen or bugger off back to your mundane mainstream shit.

WSGB

The Wharf Street Galaxy Band Online