Mark E Smith summed it up best himself in 1998: “If it’s me and your granny on bongos, it’s the Fall”. But now it’s 2007 and Granny has a laptop and drum machine…..
Thursday night at Heaven witnessed the latest chapter of Smith’s freewheeling output: Von Sudenfed, a collaboration with German electronic act Mouse on Mars. Unlike his relationship with his Fall ‘employees’, they are on a much more equal footing and it is a much happier union. This was reflected in the audience- compared to your average Fall crowd, there were actually women here; this is undoubtedly good for the gene pool. With customary diffidence, Smith wandered up through this crowd to get backstage and after decades of unreliability it felt like a show of reassurance “Yes; I am here”- it’s going to be ok”.
After a bit of laptop fiddling from Andi Toma and Jan St. Werner, Smith eventually reemerged, lyric sheet in hand, and they launched into ‘Speech Contamination’. Reviews of earlier shows had suggested a nightmarish morass of indistinguishable skronk, but they have sharpened up considerably over time. The hydraulic Four Tops stomp of album highlight ‘Rhinohead’ was sadly derailed by a microphone setback, but Smith compensated by performing the rest of the show with 2 microphones just to be sure as they settled in to ‘Fledermaus Can’t Get It’. The setup forces Smith to curb his live mixing instincts as Toma and St. Werner hold the reigns- his live vocals are liberally sampled, and played back to create an unlikely duet. The set leant on the heavier material from the LP, from the glitchy hip-hop of ‘That Sound Wiped’ to the dictatorial ‘Family Feud’ with its refrain of “I am the great M.E.S”. The spirit of the night was probably best summed up by the improbable sight in the encore of a steward grinning and bogling at the side of the stage to new single ‘Slow Down Ronnie’. It could’ve been hazardous, but it was great fun.