Photo by Brian Damage from this Flickr set.
[Warning: Geeky, obsessed fan review follows]
I’ve had few transcendent moments watching live music (many more on headphones and/or driving, thanks), but this weekend I had an damn near out of body experience at The Fall concert at the Knitting Factory. It helped that I haven’t seen the group since 1993 and that the new album is just brilliant, and also that I was second from the front of the stage, dead center, and located right next a giant bass floor speaker that I’m sure has now rendered me sterile through low frequency vibrations. But it was worth it!
As late as Tuesday the band seemed to be in jeopardy. The three-man backing group (not counting Elena, Mark E. Smith’s enigmatic, keyboard-playing wife) had been fired or quit, and the gig in Phoenix ended abruptly when the lead singer of one of the opening acts lobbed a banana peel at Mark E. Smith’s head mid-song. There was a scuffle and a kerfuffle and it looked like it was going to be 1998 all over again, when the MES got in a fight on stage with the band and never made it to the West coast.
But no! In the space of 24 hours, MES had co-opted a friendlier opening act, made up of two guys from Darker My Love and one from a duo called On the Hill and suddenly these three Yanks were part of the 30+th incarnation of the Fall. And the reports (from San Diego and Pomona) came in that this band was hot shit. Ah yeh, I thought, I don’t have to cancel my tickets.
So, here we (Jon and I) were at the Knitting Factory on Sunset Blvd. and suffering through two opening acts of various degrees of competence. Then the curtain closed and we waited. I ran into a fellow Fall fan from Santa Barbara and we got all excited in anticipation. The audience ran the gamut from just 21 to fathers bringing their sons for their first Fall concert (Father of the Year award to that man in the Bend Sinister T-shirt, thanks!). Also, guys, if your girlfriend turns out to love the Fall (and wigs out like the one I saw off to the right of me, all hair and flailing limbs), she’s a keeper.
First an insufferable, yet hilariously anti-audience video DJ guy opened for the band, looping microseconds of pop videos into a Carl Stone-meets-Industrial-dance mess. I kinda felt sorry for the guy, the audience hated him by the end of his endless set. “You’re not Stockhausen!” someone yelled.
Finally, the group walked on, and we got to see the new line-up: Tim Presley on guitar, Rob Barbato, a lumberjack hulk of a man on bass, and Orpheo McCord, a smashin’ great drummer who had a wide smile on his face the entire concert. And why not? He’s in the Fall!! And of course there’s the enigmatic and beautiful Elena Poulou, who walks on with a giant polka dot bag and stands behind this teeny Korg synth for the entire concert. They pile into “Bo Demmick”, with it’s Bo Diddley drum riff, and off we go.
Mark E. Smith walks on. Can’t believe the main is 48 or whatever, he looks 62. He removes his cheap jacket and us in the front notice there a hole in the seat of his trousers where a pocket button has been ripped off. Maybe he knows and doesn’t care. I always get the feeling so much is intentional–such as annoying the audience with 30 minutes of video wank so the result is a big purging sensation when the band starts up.
“The CD you hold in your-ah HA-ANDS!” he rants. He’s got two microphones. He’s singing into both. One gets hopelessly tangled around the mic stand and he’s pulling it around the stage. We’re singing along to the chorus, which I believe is “HEY FATTIE! HEY FATTIE!!” According to the Unofficial Fall website forum, this song was messed up (couldn’t tell), the following “Pacifying Joint” was a shambles (still, couldn’t tell), and the Hunter S. Thompson tribute “Midnight Aspen” was out of tune (was it? No wonder I can’t sing.)
But we all agreed, all 500+ people squeezed into the Knitting Factory, that Sparta FC rocked the freakin’ house, starting off with the dive-bombing opening riff and all the vocal parts handled superbly by Elena and Rob (and me in the audience, yelling “HEY!” and “ENGLISH CHELSEA FAN! THIS IS YOUR LAST GAME!”). Mark brings the band up front, right close to the edge of the stage. I turn around to Jon to give him a “what about that, then, eh?” look and see he’s stuck behind this pogoing dude, looking annoyed. Oh, well, back to the stage.
Next comes Mountain Energei, which is mysterious and cool on Country on the Click, and is dark and menacing here. Whee! Plus it goes on for aaaaages. Then “Wrong Place, Right Time” starts up and Orpheo belts out the rhythm, just loving it. It’s all cowbell! It’s ’70s!! Rob’s bass is hard and snappin’. “Holy Mother of God!!” I think. They end with the anthemic “What About Us,” which has gone from one of the new album’s best tracks to a part of the “canon”, I believe. Its singalong (really, shoutalong) chorus is a pleasure every time it comes around, and boy does it come around. For eight minutes! Mark basically goes through the lyrics twice.
Encore! Encore! We get the joyous “I Can Hear the Grass Grow” and then, OMFG, a version of “Blindess” that brought me pretty close to the Face of God. I swear this version times in between 15 and 20 minutes, but I could be wrong. It’s Krautrock meets Punk. It’s an work of architecture that the band constructs, then Mark E. Smith rebuilds several times by live-mixing sound on stage (better known as futzing with everybody’s amps). The guitar disappears, reappears. The bass drum mic is kicked aside, Rob nearly steps on it, looks down with a “what the hell?” look, places it back. Elena steps aside while Mark holds one or two keys down of the Korg. The mics are over the place, and still the RIFF THE RIFF it just keeps going, all menace. “I was on ONE LEHHHHHHHHG!” Mark cracks. “Blind Man! Have Mercy on Me!” Is this one of the best Fall songs ever? It’s certainly up there with Big New Prinz. Then the mics are gone and Mark E. Smith just stands at the lip of the stage, yelling the lyrics, or communicating with apparitions, or something. He’s gone somewhere else, he’s standing on the house that the band has built out of THE RIFF. Hot damn!!
One more encore and it’s 2 mins of Mr. Pharmacist, no more no less. Bang. And we’re done.
Ladies and gentleman, that was the Fall. I find Jon, who’s still annoyed about pogo-ing boy, and I turn to see a guy in wire specs and a full beard and we just yell enthusiasm at each other, all the pent up goodness of the gig needing an outlet. No idea who he was, but The Fall can do that to people.