I EXPECTED THE unexpected from The Fall and got exactly what I, erm, expected.
Mark E. Smith is pop’s grumpy, eccentric old coot, a man giving a good impression of James Bolan appearing as Terry’s dad in the remake of Whatever Happened To The Likely Lads. I also pictured him as the daft old git who has just come out of the betting shop and cadges you for five bucks so he can put on another horse.
On Sunday night this true English eccentric and his cohorts were playing a heaving, and typically ageing crowd, at the Bodega in Wellington. I imagined this being The Fall’s first time in New Zealand, and wasn’t going to do the research to usurp my uneducated claims, but I did overhear someone at the bar saying they saw The Fall in Christchurch in 1982, supported by The Clean. Now that would have a gig and three quarters.
Smith and co took a little time to get themselves sorted, and at 10.17 the first strains of Smith could be heard, without anyone being seen on stage. He was uttering words incoherently, a fine tradition he upheld for the entire gig, sometimes with two mics in his hands.
The Fall in 2015 comprises Peter Greenway (guitar), Keiron Melling (drums), Elena Poulou (keyboards,vocals), and David Spurr (bass). Once members would only be in for a short spell as Smith dispensed with their services as quickly as he did with his evening sandwich, but this unit appear to be in it for the long haul.
The first few songs I don’t recognise, partly because, I presume, The Fall are playing most of the current album, The Sub-Lingual Tablet, Smith being no great fan of his back catalogue. This album is so new I haven’t had a chance to subject my ears to it. As he hovered around the stage the Mancunian would occasionally fiddle with Greenway’s amp to boost the sound, with the guitarist then obliged at the end of the song to turn around and return it to normal.
The finest ten minutes comes in the shape of the rousing, clattering, boisterous Theme From Sparta FC, with a spectacular finale.
There’s a brief break before the mob return for a welcome take on the mini hit Mr Pharmacist, before they quickly disappear again, leaving an instrumental tape playing and all the expectation of a second encore, which doesn’t happen.
Then we all went home, passing a merchandise table that sold nothing more than the CD of Sub-Lingual Tablet, and the vinyl version of the same album. The glasses have never been rosy-tinted in the Smith household.