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The Fall

HMV Picture House, Edinburgh
Thurday November 3rd 2011

The moustached man from the local tattoo parlour onstage is giving it
loads. His whine-perfect karaoke impression of Mark E Smith has the
advantage of having the most crack-shot surf-garage band around backing
him, who, for the previous half-hour, have been proving just how good
they are with a series work-outs made necessary by the prolonged
absence of their vocalist, conductor, arranger, director, gaffer and
guru.

It all started so well, with Smith practically bounding on stage on the
dot of 9pm and within a minute of the band striking up the
hundred-mile an hour chug of the forebodingly titled Nate Will Not
Return, a highlight from the new Ersatz G.B. album. Guitarist Tim
Presley from the 2006 American Fall line-up has rejoined the fold while
his replacement Pete Greenway takes time out on 'maternity leave', and
Presley's twitch-hipped boyish demeanour adds extra urgency to an
already relentless fuzz.

It's even better on a glorious Strychnine, with a pigeon-chested Smith
looking imperious as ever. Then, microphone in hand, the
fifty-something demagogue takes what looks like one of his regular
tours around the stage to mess things up. Instead, he wanders offstage,
delivering his vocals and other noises off from the wings, the stairs
or who knows where. The band power on through a surprising revisitation
of 1979's Printhead. Smith eventually slopes back on, returns the mic
to its stand, then wanders back off again. Keyboardist and
long-suffering Smith spouse Eleni Poulou attempts to fill the gap on an
even more tellingly named I've Been Duped. Musically, the band are
invincible, but without anyone to crack the whip they soon run out of
steam, and finish up.

Which is when things really get interesting. Poulou explains something
about Smith having wounded feet, only to be heckled. “Are you a
doctor?” is her retort. The band return to play a couple of
instrumentals, during which the tattoo parlour boy somehow manages to
scramble his way onstage and grabs the mic. If his well-studied
Smithian repartee at first seems like a put-up job, no matter, because
Poulou cracks a smile for the first time tonight, egging the boy on.
While he's eventually led off by security, his spontaneous turn has
nevertheless turned confusion and frustration into triumph. Something
Smith capitalises on when he returns, Lazarus-like and in
stockinged-feet, for a bouncing Mr Pharmacist. Then, with an
obliviously cheery wave, he's off, the whole experience over and done
with in an hour exactly.

Whether calculated social engineer and maestro-like orchestrator of
spectacle on a par with avant-garde Polish theatre director Tadeusz
Kantor, or self-destructive, over-the-hill fuck-up, Mark E Smith
remains the ultimate show-man. He understands exactly how to press his
audience's buttons, and they love him all the more for it. Tonight,
Matthew, with the tattoo parlour man at the vanguard, we were all The
Fall.

Uncommissioned, unsolicited and unpublished, November 2011

ends

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