The Sex Pistols famously released only one album and became synonymous with the UK punk invasion. Although Greater Manchester’s The Fall are perhaps not as well known as many of their punk and post-punk contemporaries, they are, if nothing else, more prolific. Arriving at the tail end of the British punk invasion and straddling the new-wave moment, The Fall proved to be the bridge between the two and now have over thirty albums to their name. Over the decades, The Fall have achieved cult status and, as part of Melbourne Festival, they played their final show of a sold-out three-night residency at the Foxtel Festival Hub. So if you’re not already familiar with The Fall, you’ve got a long of catching up to do.
Flannel shirts, after-shave and thinning grey haircuts abounded within the male-dominated crowd. No support act and only a simple backdrop suggested that this was going to be a no-frills punk rock affair. Digging predominantly from their latest album, 2015’s Sub-Lingual Tablet, The Fall provided a solid, uncompromising hour of post-punk riffage and bitter old-man anger.
And the bitter old man in question would be 58 year-old Mark E Smith, the only original member within The Fall’s revolving door lineup. Dressed in a black leather jacket and looking like what would eventuate if Johnny Cash slept with a toad (and who’s to say he hasn’t), Smith began the set behind the curtain before stumbling onto the stage like a drunk uncle on Christmas. As he introduced the members of the group, guitarist Peter Greenway, bassist David Spurr, drummer Daren Garratt and Elena Poulou (his wife) on the synthesizer, it proved to be the last time we could understand anything he said. Smith barked, scowled and grumbled his way through the set, his voice often getting lost in the mix. Rumoured to have once fired his sound man for simply ordering a salad, Smith is known for creating an air of genuine unpredictability at his shows, often turning his back on the audience and getting in his band members’ faces.
Rhythmically, The Fall are without a doubt a powerhouse. Greenway, dressed in a sensible collared shirt, kept poker faced for the majority of the set and provided plenty of wiry guitar lines and taut riffing. Spurr and Garratt locked in a tight rhythm and when Poulou layered in her synth streaks on some of the longer jams, the result was hypnotic, abrasive and ultimately hard-hitting. At one point, it proved to be too much for some of older punter as hands started covering ears and Dads started wondering how they were going to make it through work the next day.
After 50 minutes, The Fall returned to the stage for a three-song encore before leaving punters stumbling out into the cool change. As Smith thanked the crowd, it was hard to know if he was saying ‘thank you’ or another expression beginning in ‘f’ and ending in ‘you.’ In any case, both seemed appropriate.