“We are The Fall,” Mark E. Smith intones during the opening “Victrola Time”. “Do not think you’re going to get anything else.”
The loyal, still growing tribe crammed and jostling for position to watch the latest instalment of The Fall’s 37-year, ongoing last stand for Smith’s caustically individual values take that as a promise.
There have been times where it’s seemed more like a threat. Smith’s fondness for a pint can lead to behaviour running riot with the sensibilities of more delicate souls, not least his own band-members (dozens have jumped ship over the decades). But as the new, thirtieth album Re-Mit proves, everything remains a variant on a stubbornly rewarding theme: Mark E. Smith’s fascination with language’s arcane possibilities, set to primal rock’n’roll.
The Fall survive by moving forward, and as usual the set is drawn almost entirely from Re-Mit and other recent work. On “Sir William Wray”, the relatively young band Smith has kept together for five years now hold down a garage groove, his wife Eleni Poulou adding downbeat colour on her vintage Korg synth. Smith is an abrasive, unstable presence, one minute Les Dawson lugubrious, the next puffing his pigeon chest out as he haughtily inspects the crowd. At first, it’s funny - what’s mad old Mark going to do now?
But the humour is deliberate, and quickly turns into more ferocious energy, as “Kinder of Spine” brings the night into sharp focus. “Spider, spider, I hate you,” Smith whines. “Please judge me. I want to be judged…” Over rhythmically streamlined, slowed rockabilly which shifts into brighter 1960s R&B, Smith starts to declaim, his sometimes garbled words potently clear. The “spider” could be Simon Cowell, prostituting the working-class which spawned The Fall, or any one of a thousand held in Smith’s wry contempt.
When Poulou takes over the vocal for “I’ve Been Duped”, Smith turns his back to her, arms folded, somewhere between a Salford Napoleon and Steptoe. Poulou can hardly contain her grins at a husband who is unusually, playfully happy and singing with proud power over the band’s thundering, relentless groove. For the encore “Theme from Sparta FC”, Smith holds the mic with his arms flung back like Christ, and prowls the stage with the exaggerated grace of a benign drunk. He clocks off on the stroke of 60 minutes: all business, all pleasure, all Fall.