The Fall - Arches, Glasgow, Wed 21 Nov
Mark E Smith and co deliver set lacking structure but brimming with unapologetic integrity
This article is from 2012.
Mark E Smith is often hailed as the most enigmatic frontman of his generation. Predictably unpredictable, with a biting wit that pours scorn over the most trivial of subjects, generally casting a sardonic sneer down from his perch above, he's certainly not someone to be trifled with. Often dismissed as a volatile individual, he's also been labelled as out of touch, with a very insular approach to his own creative endeavours. In spite of all that, Mark E seems to have a knack for constantly reinvigorating The Fall's collective gene pool, with a meticulously selected line-up of musicians, who carry the mumbling maestro through their largely indecipherable set. This discernible quality appears to be Smith's redeeming feature, as his band are a tightly-knit unit despite his lack of presence in creating synergy between them.
While draped in his trademark leather jacket he casts his eyes unforgivingly at a lyric sheet, presumably to prompt some form of conscious thought to stimulate his otherwise inebriated state. A wild sight to behold yet somehow in his element, Smith clearly thrives in this environment. The bizarre stage antics are clearly part of his appeal - his no-shows, stumbling, ranting and walk-outs over the years only seem to encourage his devout following. Pressed eagerly towards the front of the stage and dressed in obligatory Doc Martens, rock-a-billy hairstyles and Harrington jackets, the gig could easily be mistaken for some warped attempt at a Stewart Lee/Mark Kermode hybrid convention of sorts.
With 29 albums under their belt, the cult icons have a plethora of material that they can draw on; however in this live setting Smith tends to favour the newer additions to their back catalogue with recent albums Ersatz GB and Your Future Our Clutter showcasing the efforts of the latest incarnation of his post-punk outfit. At times it seems like the product of a long, drawn-out jam and with no real sense of structure, further augmented by Smith’s absence throughout various periods of the set. Still, their uncompromising and unapologetic approach conveys a youthful integrity, with no signs of fading, despite the fact it may have been lost on some people throughout their prolific 36 year career.