"I think this is the best line-up I've ever had," Mark E Smith told me back in March before the release of The Fall's new album, Your Future Our Clutter, to generally rapturous accolades.
With reports of a curtailed set on the first date in Edinburgh, and 40-minute performances further down the line, the atmosphere at Shepherd's Bush is one of great expectation mixed with some uncertainty. As it is, The Fall play with ferocious and focused power for some 70 minutes, with fearsome drummer Keiron Melling laying into the opening "O.F.Y.C. Showcase", guitarist Peter Greenway staring towards stage centre waiting for Smith to appear, bassist Dave Spurr locking down the rhythms with megalithic force in front of the drums, and Smith's wife and keyboardist, Elena Poulou – her coat buttoned right up as if it were winter in Berlin – engaging in a sonic attack worthy of Hawkwind's Dik Mik, circa 1972.
The set opener's driving, propulsive rhythms and elemental, unshakable riffs build up towards the high tension that rock'n'roll craves, before Mark E Smith purposefully walks on as if he's about to embark on field surgery (more Dr Benway than Dr Finlay), cups his hands about one of the three mics scattered across the stage, and hollers "Your Future, Our Clutter" as a miasmic pre-apocalyptic mantra.
Few if any bands of such vintage could hold a packed house in the firm and enthralling grip of a new album, much of which gets an airing, along with nuggets from the best of postmillennial Fall. Smith owns his stage completely, stares through it as if it wasn't quite there. "Cowboy George" breaks down from spaghetti Western gallop to a freeform chemical cosh of sound, Poulou's electronics sparking and broiling over the group's core of guitar, bass and drums while Smith intones "unseen knowledge, unseen footage, unseen facts". A stunning "Weather Report 2", with its similarly narcotic, industrial ambience, is as unsettlingly weird as the album version, taking the music far further out than media clichés about Smith and The Fall might suggest, while the mid-set eruption into "Slippy Floor" was as brilliant a rock'n'roll moment as you could hope for, topped only by a breathtakingly fierce "Reformation!" and the set-closer, "Theme From Sparta FC", with its compulsive, descending guitar riff.
Sharp, focused, intense – as a group, Smith and co show themselves to be in complete control of all known faculties, and probably a few unknown ones, too. Unseen knowledge, indeed.