Saturday 14 June 2014

The Fall at Under The Bridge -11 June 2014

The Fall (pic from Cool Music Central - recommended Greek blog)

I'm a Chelsea fan. I've seen the team when they've been good, bad, poor and rich. I've seen them relegated, promoted and win everything available to them in the world of football. But I've never seen a gig at the ground.

I'm a Fall fan. I've seen multiple line ups, I've seen Mark E Smith on one, two or no legs, I've seen them awesomely good and just walk-out-and-leave-them-to-it bad. I've seen the band when they've been accompanied by ballet dancers, or when they've provided the live accompanimentto a play about a pope. But I've never seen them play under the stand at a football club.

Tonight, I marry these twin obsessions, I'm here to see The Fall play at Under The Bridge, a subterranean music theme bar in the bowels of the West Stand.

The venue itself reminds me of the performance spaces that can be found in Las Vegas casinos (or, more close to home, the Indigo Bar that is the smaller room at the O2 Arena). It is designed to look dark and grungy, but it is immaculately clean and ruthlessly efficient. There are scores of photographic prints of famous rock stars, all of which can be purchased online It's ersatz atmosphere, but it doesn't detract from the bands. In fact sightlines are excellent and the sound is spot on throughout.

The main support act are Sentimentalists, a band from Leeds who have a unique schtick which works very well for them. The easiest way to describe them is as a punk band that happens to play lounge music. And unlike the likes of Richard Cheese, this is all original material of an acerbic bent.

Phil Fowler laconically narrates tales of Northern desperation while the rest of the band tinkle away lightly in the background. He has the slightly shoddy charm of a 60's TV gameshow host. He's apparently sincere, but you don't believe a word of it.

More so than at any time in the Fall's illustrious history, Mark E Smith is a contented man. After years of sackings, recriminations and generally eccentric behaviour, he has settled on a team of band members that he is satisfied with. They are wonderfully proficient, as finely honed as a crack SAS squadron, and appear utterly loyal and dependable. Most importantly, they are content to exist in his shadow and keep out of his way.

Mark's looking good in himself too. He's finally put all his hip problems behind him, seems fit and in good humour. He's even attempting a rather sinister looking Roger Delgado beard.

Most of tonight's set is gleaned from their last album Re-Mit, together with tracks from the Remainderer E.P.  Powered by two drummers, the band fairly motor along. The sound is crystal clear. Mark E is almost utterly incomprehensible as per usual. You wouldn't have it any other way.

The key track that the Fall return to again and again through their career (and twice tonight) is their version of The Other Half's garage rock classic 'Mr. Pharmacist'. It's the track that defines the band - whichever tour they are on, no matter who is in the group or what material they are promoting, this is their touchstone. As uber-fan John Peel would say "The Fall. Always different, always the same."

The other old, old track disinterred this evening is 'Psykick Dancehall', another rattling piece of grumbling nonsense. The crowd hollers its approval.

Smith's wife Elena is also in the band. Playing away at a keyboard she has kept her coat on and keeps her handbag under her arm. While Mark continues his longstanding habit of fiddling with the band's equipment or wandering offstage, she often gathers up her belongings and beetles off after him. She (and the others) appear to treat Mark's interventions with good humour.

It's a rousing show. I've seen The Fall good, and I've seen them bad. I've now seen them at Stamford Bridge. This has definitely been one of the good times.

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