Mark E. Smith once said “if it’s me and your granny on the bongos, then it’s the Fall”. And no disrespect to any of his current band mates but he’s absolutely right. As tight and punchy as they were throughout the band’s hour-long set in the Button Factory, Smith’s near-cameo turn was the only show in town. Rattling around the stage like a golf ball on the floor of a moving car and grabbing whoever’s mic is closest he really does own that stage but there is always the impression that the only things dictating the set are his pique and whimsy.
The band seemed to be already playing before they had stopped walking into position and judging by the way they burst into ‘Gapa’, this urgency and vigour was unlikely to leave them any time soon. It’s almost as if they’re fully expecting the set to go south at any second so they want to play as much they can. So by the time Smith was on stage, looking and shouting like belligerent old coach-driver, there was enough abrasive menace coming from the music to cause carpet burns. With his back to the crowd and his DIY sound engineering game well under way Smith, by the end of the second song, was already making and doing what he wanted up there. Even though some of what he gets up to on stage is literally that, a game, hearing a man using a live mic to attack a crash cymbal is just slightly the wrong side of noise.
By the end of ‘Strychnine’ Smith had disappeared from the stage and as his absence grew longer there were some nods being passed amongst his band as well as the crowd who weren’t quite sure if that was that. One punter mentioning that having seen the Fall eight times, four of the gigs being the best gigs he’s ever been to and four being the worst, you just “get what you get so there’s no point expecting anything”. He did eventually return but not for the last time did guitarist Peter Greenway and keyboardist Elena Poulou take turns with vocals meaning at least some of Smith’s lyrical genius was audible on the night. Finishing a fairly strong collection of songs with just over an hour clocked ‘Theme From Sparta F.C.” was absolutely riotous. The band had held it together with easy grace but Mark E. Smith is just one of those characters in music that can arrive, shout if he wants to, walk around or just stare at his wife if he wants to and leave when he wants to without losing the crowd. Save for some justified feelings of hostility from some crowds in the past for similar efforts, the overwhelmingly male crowd were just happy to see one of their own still kicking around being Mark E. Smith being the Fall.