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- Keele University, »
Mark E. Smith saunters into the light all arms and mouth, the former looking slightly too long for his frame in a short-sleeve shirt, the latter forever chewing and slurping on an invisible hunk of cud. He prowls the stage and takes a spot, eyes fixed on the audience, each scowl and howl screwing his face up into a violent sneezing grimace. His little finger is cocked at the microphone like he’s taking tea at noon, a delicate touch that is at odds with the dismissive slur emanating from his mouth, every other word curled up at the corners with a trademark ‘ahh’ or ‘uhh’. The words are intelligible but the sound is more than enough.
Usually this sight, like few others, would be enough to have your eyes for the set, but tonight they keep wandering to find out find out where the music’s measured ferocity is coming from. There has been talk about this particular group of musicians (Peter Greenaway on guitar, Dave Spurr on bass, Keiron Melling on drums and the continued presence of Elini Poulou on keys) being one of the best live Fall line-ups to date. I can only speak for one other incarnation, but on tonight’s evidence it would be hard to believe that there has been a bunch that could match this one for the taught and lean aggression that drives each song.
‘O.F.Y.C Showcase’ rumbles along with an extended introduction that creates room for Smith to make an entrance. Arriving, he lets the tension build until he hits out with a sneering "your future, our clutter" like a twisted anti-slogan that would corner Dave’s hollow ‘vote for change’ on the campaign trail and piss on its brogues. The demented stomp of ‘Bury Pts 1+3’ is a highlight, as is ‘Hot Cake’, Poulou making the song with her faux-ingénue Sixties girl-group "ah-ah-oohs". Coming across like a Spaghetti western transported to the dark of Oldham Street, ‘Cowboy George’ is a rollicking soundtrack to the Manchester badlands but with spurs and six-shooters swapped for trainers and the jagged remains of a bottle hastily modified for a midnight shoot-out
The audience show their appreciation with the funniest attempt at a stage invasion that I’ve ever seen. Whereas a packed crowd with the air squeezed out might’ve saved some blushes, here there is enough room to watch every bungled attempt to get a leg up onto the barrier. It’s enough to get the student union security rattled though, as they’re probably more used to ushering out lithe young things bubbled up on snakebite or squiffy JackWills with more shout than clout, not heavy-set forty-year-olds who don’t have to worry about work the next day. With one man slowly (very slowly) following the other in an epic onslaught, it’s the greying Bash Street Kids reinacting Zulu with Smith firmly on the side of the natives, chuckling at the larks and whipping away the cap of a completely bemused security guard that looks like he might start crying. It feels like the perfect sort of face-off for a Fall gig, with whatever trace of menace equally matched by the hilarious absurdity of it all.
Towards the end, I’m reminded of a point in this site’s review of Your Future Our Clutter where it says ‘the fact that Smith rarely untangles The Fall from the cryptic absurdist approach that has become his stock-in-trade, to head toward this type of profoundly personal material, only makes it that more affecting when he actually does deviate from his path most travelled’. So used to hearing about the Smith of myth playing the dogged and dogmatic dictator, it’s oddly touching to see him give Greenaway a pat on the back halfway through, with Spurr getting an affectionate tap on the cheek and Poulou a rub on the elbow as they leave the stage. It seems that everyone is in agreement that Your Future Our Clutter can take its place as one of the finest moments in the Fall’s long history, but as they return for a triumphant blitz through ‘Theme from Sparta F.C.’, the current live experience feels entirely deserving of the same high praise.
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