Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Fall, Electra @ Barby

This was my second time seeing The Fall play live, the first time was in September 1994 and they were ancient even then. Stereolab were the opening act (it was my first time seeing the 'Lab as well) and they were the band I had really come to see. The fact that The Fall would be playing a set afterward was a nice bonus, I was enough of a fan that I enjoyed their music from time to time, but wasn't enough of a fan to buy any of their records. And in 2011, that's still true, amazingly enough. BTW, sixteen years between gigs by a particular band is a personal record -- nobody else even comes close.

But first comes Electra, a three-piece outfit whose lead singer has an uncanny resemblance to Jon Spencer. On one hand, they're a shouty, harmonizing guitar pop trio and on the other they're trying to iron out the last of their garage-y tendencies to make their music more arena-friendly. Nothing wrong with thinking big. They blaze their way through a tight 25-minute set and are practically sprinting off the stage with their equipment in tow before the final note is even finished.

As for the Fall, John Peel's description pretty much tells the story: "they are always different, they are always the same". In '94, MES didn't even acknowledge the audience. I'm not talking about "thank you"s and between song chatter -- I wasn't expecting any of that. He didn't even look at the audience. Not one time. He came on stage with his back turned and he walked off when the set was over, without glancing over his shoulder even once. This time, he faces the audience, perfect for letting us all see how surly he is. Just when you thought MES couldn't get any grumpier or surlier, he does it. He ages on different time scales than the rest of us. But wouldn't we all love to have his job -- on stage every night, wandering aimlessly around, grabbing the nearest mic whenever it suits him, garbling who knows what for an hour and a half ... I can't imagine that MES ever feels pressure to perform.

The Fall bring their own opening act these days. They have a DJ/laptop artist whose combination of tongue-in-cheek humour and noisy sound loops recall the work of similarly bonkers noise/cut-up performers like The Rip-Off Artist. He takes video of an iconic act, e.g. Black Sabbath, and loops the sound synced-to-video into a dizzying mesh of odd shapes -- the overall effect is Ozzy or Barbra or Sinead or Elvis singing and sustaining their notes seemingly forever. The Fall have gone multi-media -- they even have a backdrop with simple video projections now!

MES somehow managed to marry a woman who is way better looking and much younger than you'd expect. In '94, Brix Smith showed up late and strolled onstage halfway through their set. Who knows if this was a pre-planned thing or not, something that was part of their everyday gigging routine, but I remember hearing rumours that she wasn't going to show up that night, and getting the reactions of people who were stunned to actually see her there. His new wife, Elena Poulou (actually not so new -- they've been married for nine years) does quite a lot of singing (sometimes including lead vocals) and they GASP seem to interact in subtle ways and might even be enjoying themselves. She carries a comically large tote bag on stage and stands with it slung over her shoulder for the entire night. It's like she doesn't want to leave her valuables in the dressing room or something. During one of the encores, she sings lead on the band's cover of "White Lightning", which was the first Fall song I ever heard. That was in 1990, and I hated it. I felt like switching the station whenever it came on the radio. But I eventually grew to like it -- it took years, but I did it. Tonight, I'm even a bit disappointed that MES wasn't the one to sing the song.

The 1994 gig blew my mind a bit because it featured an enormously heavy wall of noise -- a two drums + two bass attack. And they played "New Big Prinz", which was so fantastic and got half the club pogo-ing and was such a memorable moment all in all that it instantly turned me into a fan of the band. Seriously, it was one of those amazing moments in music where you get blindsided and suddenly, irretrievably, everything makes sense and you completely change your feelings toward a song or band. The Fall 2011 sound a bit too professional, bordering on pub rock albeit with a singer who does nothing but grunt and mumble -- when he's onstage at all. They can play, there's no doubt about it, but they're a bit sterile. If history is any indication though, MES will eventually fire some people and overhaul the band before they get too complacent or too reliable. And The Fall will change again, and yet manage to stay the same.

1 comment:

Barry said...

"Welcome to the world of Asaf (Safi) Etiel, aka the Video Sniper, an audio-visual performance artist who will be raising the hackles of fans of British post-punk veterans The Fall when he creates his mayhem ahead of their performance on January 20 at the Barby Club in Tel Aviv"