24 days with a broken heart
This has got to stop. I’ve got to sort out my head, life, expectations. As if such intentions weren’t a recipe for never achieving any such thing, and in any case in direct opposition to the Code of the Flaming Lips (live life for the moment, dress up as a dolphin). Because here I am for the second time this year at such a great gig, having it semi-destroyed feeling a wilderness for you and me punctuated by… philosophy? Denial and awkwardness, more like. This time it’s The Fall, returning to Dundee after a few years, in fact plastering most of the city with large fluorescent yellow posters proclaiming that Mark E. Smith is presenting THE FALL on 25th February, supported by the very special guest JOHN COOPER CLARKE. THE FALL in huge type, each poster accompanied by another underneath proclaiming exactly the same thing, like it’s actually The Fall of Man which is coming and there’s no escape.

The last time The Fall played here was bloody ace. So ace, it constitutes one of the two anecdotes I’ve been supplied with in this life. Whilst the one about my old flatmate getting Hallowe’en mixed up with a Remembrance Day and going to a televised ceremony dressed as a vampire is always going to be pretty hard to beat, the one about The Fall isn’t bad either. This was around the time ‘Touch Sensitive’ was out, and they played a tiny place I’ve not been to before or since. A world cup was on, I think, so maybe the band were annoyed about having to wait for a match to finish before they could come on. In any event, they played a 20 minute set (the first 5 of which was the ‘Touch Sensitive’ riff with no Mark E. Smith in sight) and stalked off. They condescended to do one encore, and their mood must’ve lightened, because a second looked as though it was in the offing. The band came out without Mark again, and cranked up ‘Big New Prinz’, to the unspeakable excitement of all present. It was more than one fan could take to hear the song without the singing, and a few minutes in, just as Mark could be seen shuffling over to join the band and claim the adulation, the fan climbed onstage and slurred ‘Check the record check the record…’ into the microphone. Pausinag in disgust, Mark signalled the band, who stopped playing and walked off, leaving this poor fan alone, confused, and snubbed by his favourite band. You felt for him, but he cut a comical figure sitting on the edge of the stage afterwards, bemused, being guardedly consoled by other fans who hadn’t the heart to shout at him for not letting The Fall play their best song.

Switching to Edinburgh, I’m standing a month or so earlier in a packed Liquid Room, wondering if I have to plead to get you by my side. The wound a little fresher this time, and any less a prospect than being just about to witness a Magic Band show would be blotted out by shameless self pity. As it is, the whole room goes into total meltdown as ‘Diddy Wah Diddy’ just fucking ERUPTS from these fat bouncy old men and is pretty much the best thing I’ve ever heard. The biggest fattest dumbest heart-vibrating good time fuzz bass riff accompanied by mental images of the Captain on the beach in the video, eyes shut, stomping and looking like some marketing person thinks he’s a heart throb. And in real life, 40 years later: Drumbo in his white overcoat and sunglasses, bellowing ‘Ain’t no town / Ain’t no city / CRAZY ’bout my girl in Diddy Wah Diddy’ like he was born to do nothing else. I mean, it’s a fun thing to do in any case: I do it myself if I’ve had a few and am with someone who’s likely not to run away. But Drumbo’s a natural Second Captain. And from this bubblegum blues height to be plunged without warning into the hellfire of ‘The Big Dig’ is almost too much. No messing. This is what sound can do when it’s sick splintered joyous enough.

The rest of the set’s amazing too, but I kind of tune in and out and wish you were there to dance with. The support band are The Fire Engines, which I gather is a big deal for people who knew who The Fire Engines used to be (i.e. not me). They sound like The Yummy Fur, which is probably the first time the comparison’s been made that way around.

Back to Dundee, and the improvisational karaoke-ist Fall fan is there again this time, looking slightly nervous and flashing his beer belly from time to time by way of steadying his nerves. John Cooper Clarke looks in the same kind of battered and toothless physical shape as Mark E. Smith tends to. He’s funny, rhymes and talks about divorce is about all I remember. Does some songs accompanied on guitar with another dentally challenged man. These toothless people are scaring the shit out of me: is this normal? And then The Fall are great. Brittle and brutal and even crowd-pleasing for a while (‘Mr Pharmacist’ and ‘White Lightening’). It’s the rest of the set that rocks though. ‘Telephone Thing’ leaping to life, and a whole load of stuff which I couldn’t tell you where it was from, but which knows exactly where it’s going. Mark looking pretty together: fiddling with amp knobs and keyboard keys as usual, but more in the guise of a band leader than a leader propped up by his band. And this time you are there, dancing, but still this breaking off is misery and I’m sorry but I can’t see past it for the moment.

© 2004 Chris Fox