Mark. E. Smith once described Brighton as “so middle class they put pebbles on the beach so they don’t get sand between their toes. Shit pubs. Shit atmosphere.” Returning to his favourite city, The Fall singer was in fine form as he angrily stumbled through an hour of monosyllabic ramblings and aggressive shouting to a dedicated Concorde 2 crowd that consisted mainly of older fans and the odd splattering of millennial, keen to discover “the greatest band in the world” for the very first time.
Of the 66 musicians who have come and gone over the band’s four decades of existence, more than a third lasted less than 12 months. Smith is a divisive character but that is what makes him such an alluring and disturbing stage presence. Entering the fray halfway through set opener ‘Mister Rode’, it’s no exaggeration to say that you could barely distinguish a word he was saying all night. But would ardent fans expect anything less?
“Repetition in the music and we’re never gonna lose it,” Smith sings on 1978 B-side ‘Repetition’ in what remains a manifesto for the Salford native. Never moving away from their motorik lifeblood, the four other band mates immaculately delivered the tense rhythmic and abrasive guitar-driven sound to perfection throughout the entire gig. Even managing to do so with the added burden of Smith incessantly attempting to fiddle and alternate with the controls on their guitar amps and mics.
Earlier in the night, marrying Kate Bush theatrics with a hybrid of heavy metal/punk and face melting riffs, Japanese rockers Bo Ningen left the audience captivated during their support slot. The long hair and robes invites you to believe they’re a classic psych band, only to leave you spellbound when the first sonic wave hits. They may not be the most thrilling on record, however, they never fail to blow people away when watching a live performance. This is no more exemplified than in set closer ‘Daikaiseia’ a track which carries on for a good 16 minutes after it is seemingly finished. When it finally does reach its climax, Taigen Kawabe is stood atop her amp having what looks akin to an epileptic fit. Meanwhile, Kohhei Matsuda is formulating indescribable tones with the end of a guitar lead and Yuki Tsujii is waving his instrument around his head, coming perilously close to knocking out the percussion king Monchan Monna. It’s the world’s most elongated, mesmerising and downright ridiculous set closer. But it’s brilliant.
Over the years, I’ve been told that I’d love The Fall by more people than there are previous members of the band. But it wasn’t until last November that I finally took the plunge and invested a considerable amount of time immersing myself in their back catalogue. Fast forward a few months and the likes of Hex Education Hour and This Nation’s Saving Grace are ranked among my favourite records. However, Smith being the man he is, decided to not play a single song from the first 15 years of the band’s existence; arguably the most prolific and critically-acclaimed period. Numerous promoters have endeavoured – and failed miserably – to get him to play nostalgia-friendly sets, but he doesn’t play by the rule book.
Nevertheless, with the now added bonus of a double drummer, the band was as tight as could possibly be. Highlights included the enthralling ‘Dedication Not Medication’ and the gripping Quit iPhone- a song which soundtracks Smith’s latest annoyance and was ironically greeted by a collection of the said devises being lifted into the air to film the show.
Penultimate track ‘Brillo Filo’ then perfectly exemplified the cult status of The Fall. With Smith deciding to have one of his unnecessary twiddles with the Korg synthesizer, he threw his mic out into the crowd. This subsequently passed the attention of the room onto one Fall devotee, who proceeded to sing, word for word, the ‘unknown’ song in full. This three-minute period of relatively distinguishable singing proved to be the most coherent of the entire gig.
The live experience of The Fall is a strange one. They have somehow evolved to the point where their major drawback is also, paradoxically, their major pull. During the course of the evening, I was half-transfixed on the wrecking ball that is Mark. E. Smith and half immersed in the throbbing motorik post-punk coming from the band. My point being, I was never bored, and really enjoyed the entire spectacle. And when all is said and done, that is what art is, in essence, isn’t it? Taking inspiration from a creative work and applying your own experience to it. In some cases, the results may bear no resemblance to the initial conception, but it still evokes an appreciative emotion inside.
As he stormed offstage following set closer ‘Bury’, you got the impression that Smith would much rather have been in his hometown. His loyal audience were glad he was in Brighton.