Camden’s Koko is heaving with middle-aged (and a few younger) diehard fans of Manchester’s enigmatic post-punk stalwarts The Fall. I am greeted with looks of sheer horror and bewilderment when I admit it’s the first time I’ve seen them live, and I’m subsequently treated to enticing hints and rumours of what might lie ahead. The band is sacked every couple of years by front man Mark E Smith, I’m told, they might only play totally new songs that haven’t been recorded yet, I’m warned, and they are one of the best live bands ever. I’m excited.
First support act, Orphans and Vandals, is a British five-piece that I really want to like. Two women, three men, all seated, all displaying multi-instrumental skills – swapping between a whole host of unusual instruments. But the laid-back, acoustic meanderings lack energy or cohesion and there is zero interaction with the audience, leaving the chatting crowd easily and increasingly heard above the band.
The second support act of the evening fares better. Darker My Love is a US act with a funky, psychedelic rock agenda. Some of the group have previously formed one of the recent (and many) line-ups of The Fall. They don’t exactly use the stage, staying pretty much rooted to the spot throughout, but they put in an impassioned performance and their swirling heavy guitars and bass raise the temperature in the venue.
Running half an hour late, The Fall finally arrives, with Mark E Smith walking casually on stage some way through the first song and then stealing the show from that moment on. Behind them is a backdrop with a huge image of comedy magician Tommy Cooper on it – I ask several people but no one can explain the link, except a wild guess at it somehow referring to a song from their last album called ‘Tommy Shooter’.
Smith paces the stage, his poetic chant-like delivery cruising above a tight, heavy, electronic rock ocean, with riffs a band from any genre would be proud of. He tosses one of the two mikes he uses into the crowd, allowing frenzied fans at the front to briefly have their chance to be part of The Fall. I get the impression that this band is never intentionally crowd-pleasing, but the mix of newer and older tracks is warmly welcomed, including ‘Reformation’ and ‘Psykick Dancehall’.
The latter song includes the line “When I’m dead and gone, my vibrations will live on”. I find it easy to believe that this will be the the case. I leave with a feeling of conversion to the cause and happy to have witnessed the continuing rise of The Fall.
All photographs copyright of Imelda Michalczyk