HAVING churned out over 30 albums and played gigs the length and breadth of Manchester since 1977, from Band on the Wall to the Academies to your Nan’s front room, probably, it’s hard to believe that Mark E. Smith has never played Manchester Cathedral until this recent perfomance.
To the untrained eye, or ear, Smith’s incoherent ramblings resemble an irritable tramp awoken from his drunken stupor by a group of baiting students
Emerging from the gloomy catacombs like Salford’s answer to Gollum, Smith garbled his unique brand of cantankerous vitriol through a combination of songs old and new during the group’s hour long set on Thursday 15 May.
While a distinctive, suitable setting for Smith’s snarling persona, and a settled line-up on top musical form behind him, the performance meandered into an unintelligible ramble stemming from Smith’s snarls and yelps of vocals.
The powerful, echoed delivery filled the humid Cathedral air but failed to translate into any meaningful message. Between songs and odd bits of small talk I probably understood 5% of anything Smith mumbled or barked across the cavernous hall.
For Fall aficionados, pogoing at the front and clinging on to their heroes every satirical jibe, the gig was probably another classic. But for newcomers, or fans unable to recount track four on album 28 with precision, their introduction to The Fall at the Cathedral is unlikely to have inspired them into joining Smith’s cult.
To the untrained eye, or ear, Smith’s incoherent ramblings resemble an irritable tramp awoken from his drunken stupor by a group of baiting students. You could blame the venue for Smith's garbled noises, but Peter Hook’s performance last year was given deep, booming clarity in contrast.
On stage Smith wandered listlessly, balancing between nonchalant swagger and indifference at having to play yet another gig. At times he’s off stage, fiddling with equipment or singing with his back to the faithful. This contempt for pandering to the audience is part of Smith’s enduring charm, he’s perfected the art of performing without looking like caring, stalking the stage shadows as if it were his own dingy living room.
The set merged into one indistinguishable haze. While honed Fall apostles could probably distinguish between Blindness, The Remainderer and Facebook (Troll) easily, it was musical roulette for the rest of us with no song intros.
At times the parallel courses of music and lyrics converge powerfully and randomly to craft a lasting contribution, Bury and cover Strychnine being riotous examples along with classic encore piece Mr Pharmacist. The frantic blasts of rock‘n'roll, aided by dual drummers, were consistent pillars of excellence. The settled Fall line-up over the past few years was noticeable as everyone operated on the same wavelength, even if Smith wasn’t.
After barely an hour of eclectic fallout Smith and his disciples departed the stage. While they returned for a short, sharp encore it wouldn’t have been a surprise if the temperamental Smith had disappeared without saying goodbye or sod off.
Fall fans will defend Smith to the ends of Salford for his belligerent, rebellious, non-nonsense approach, but the indecipherable vocals, marauding on and off the stage along with a short set for a not so short price (£25), doesn’t flatter the veteran artist. Without Smith’s stinging satire bellowing out live, as it does on record, you’re left with a less than impressive display despite musical proficiency.
The Fall and Smith are great, the latter a grumpy national treasure, but this performance wasn’t indicative of the groups powerful and evolving appeal.
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