Celebrating the club’s 9th birthday with three days of events, the festivities at Maria am Ostbahnhof were kicked off on Thursday with a VJ set by Safy. Reanimating the freshly dead Pavarotti for a cut and paste version of the ubiquitous Nessum Dorma, James Brown, Elvis and Black Sabbath all made guest appearances. A vowel, an inhalation, a pause – glitched together into a montage of false starts and soaring emotion. Stripped of the lyrics narrative content these looped fragments provided a fitting intro to the still wonderful, still frightening world of The Fall.
Like all great rock and roll what The Fall sometime lack in coherence they make up for in conviction. Despite, or perhaps because of , fifty eight (!) lineup changes, sackings, fist fights and strong indicators of borderline personality disorder, Mark E Smith’s outfit are always a unit, a crack death squad in the service of a not so benign dictatorship.
Mad old uncle Mark with his crisply ironed white shirt and shiny 80’s leather box jacket (presumably his social worker likes to make sure he looks presentable) – pulls his patent lizard face into a variety of scowls and leers, mumbling an inspired stream of consciousness. The hip priest, chewing away on a mouthful of industrial strength Khat, declaiming, speaking in tongues.
Mad old uncle Mark, you see him only once a year, usually at Christmas, his pockets full of furry sweets, cackling as his medication falls into the hands of the kiddies. Though his mind may be a tribute to the effects of twenty years of cheap lager and cheaper speed, Mark E Smith has released 26 studio albums, 29 live albums and, seeing as how he has so much time on his hands, two albums of spoken word.
At this point, whether they are any good is perhaps beside the point – they are and remain, a seminal reference point and if their live sets occasionally sound like garage karaoke, appropriated pop fragments with lyrics by William Burroughs, that’s just the way it is – 50,000 Fall fans can’t be wrong. Chief among his many achievements may simply be that Mark E Smith outlived his number one fan, the late John Peel, who championed the band through thick and thin.
Typically the set contained only a handful of immediately recognisable songs but Mr Pharmacist, What about Us, The Theme from Sparta F.C and White Lightning provided highlights. Stalking about the stage sabotaging his musicians amps, Mark E Smith seemed to be in a relatively good mood, even exchanging a joke with one of his ever revolving cast of bass players.
By 3am Alec Empire and T Raumschmiere had still yet to put in an appearance and after such a vivid demonstration of the importance of getting your beauty sleep (not to mention the bass frequencies of the clubs sound system rearranging my internal organs) I sloped of back to the Dorf in a vain attempt to get some sleep before dawn.
Mark E Smith hasn’t slept since 1976, his autobiography is out in February.