Having lived in Manchester for nearly three years, there are certain things that are inevitable, one of which is being called up to play bass in The Fall; Like a rock ‘n roll postcode lottery. Fearing that soon my time would come and I would be rather unprepared, I decided that seeing Salford’s finest in their most local of surroundings would be a rather good idea. I had to admit I was dubious; the band seem to have a rather Marmite quality live. Feedback from friends that had been before was either “best thing I’ve ever seen” or “worst half an hour of my life”.
There was no in between.
As I walked into The Ritz my ears were violently pricked up at the snarling bassline of support act Cabbage’s absolutely glorious tune, ‘Dinner Lady’. From the few songs I ingested like a warm yet pleasant lager at a festival, Cabbage are the most exciting British band I have seen for a while. Musically tight, dirty, angry, guttural – they’re quite perfect.
On to the main event, which was running late.
Prior to entering the stage we were treated to a few minutes of solid breakbeat and distortion, all adding to my nerves. The opening chords of last years ‘Venice With The Girls’ were struck, and on came the rather unassuming band made up of geography teacher lookalike on guitar, and a bass player who has that same look Rob Trujillo had when he joined Metallica – like he was the only one still interested in being there. A great cheer pierced the air as Mark E Smith himself shuffled onto the stage, the crowd both young and definitely there the first time, punching the air. This track plus the classic ‘Totally Wired’ got the show off to a sterling start. Smith, in a navy and black suit combo, stood at the foot of the stage sneeringly musing over the teenagers in front of him, all TopShop-standard-issue alternative with the complete inability to catch the lithe limbs of the girl trying to crowd surf (I think I counted five separate and equally hilarious dropping scenarios).
Following this ruckus and entertaining start, it just got a little bit weird. I mean, it was like Smith was purposely trying to make the sound man’s job impossible. He was whirling the nobs on the amp stacks, putting two microphones together, casually flicking at the synthesiser. The sound quality of the whole thing was none dissimilar that of pub karaoke. Don’t get me wrong, this could be absolutely key to Smith’s performance, but for an entry level Fall user, I didn’t get it.
No mind, because as I wondered to the back of the auditorium it was evident that I was outnumbered by those that did. Those that were bouncing along and merrily fist-pumping to what I’m told was ‘Auto-Chip 14-15’, those that were staring out Smith just as hard as he stared out them, those are the people for whom The Fall matter. To the point where it almost feels rude to slate them. But I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t give a shit.
So yeah, The Fall, approach with caution if you’re new. If you’re old school, it was probably fine.