Leo Finlay "The North At Its Heights"
THE FALL Brixton Fridge (December 3, 1990)
WHEN MARK E Smith wrote "The North Will Rise Again', he could hardly have envisaged Manchester at the helm of a new pop explosion. But while the Mundanes and Roses steadily stumble into stadium status, The Fall remain the same awkward bastards - bigger than ever, granted, but incapable of swaying the masses. It would make commercial sense for them to get their act together, and rush out a few pop toons, but The Fall have never had to muscle in on anyone else's act.
Playing The Fridge was a smart move. It's a good venue, but The Fall could easily sell out somewhere three times the size. The sardine scenario however created an atmosphere that was more insane than intimate, with the hall packed with informed Fall fans. No requests here, mate. But Smith & Co's stroppiness was revealed by the hour between the support and their appearance. And who the f**k wants to hear the entire Ramones back catalogue over the PA in sauna conditions anyway'! Typically when they do appear, it's to begin with a new song. God knows what it was called, but the thumping power and minimal delivery augur well for the next album. Then they burst into 'Blood Outta Stone', B-side of 'White Lightning' and true proof that The Fall only do covers when they've got something better for the B-side. The crowd duly went apeshit and the party atmosphere lasted through the rest of the gig. Under such circumstances yer average combo would rock into old fave mode, but with The Fall currently reaching another creative peak there was no need to trade on former glories. 'Mr Pharmacist' (a cover anyway) was as far into the past as they went, but it didn't matter. This was a new Fall, a Fall stripped to the waist and ready to fight. And while new (temporary?) member Kenny Brady, on keyboards and occasional violin, added a vital edge to the pulverising beat, die-hards Craig Scanlon and Stephen Hanley shone more brightly than ever.
Highlight of the night was a thundering 'Big New Prinz', which proved you can be danceable and menacing at the same time. Anyone who ever wondered why Smith rewrote 'Hip Priest' found their answer here. Then after two rousing encores they left, and as the crowd moved out, the debris on the floor prompted the question: why do Fall fans drink so much?
There's no need, really, for the escape into oblivion was right in front of 'em. This could have been just another great Fall gig, but it was so much more. Inspired.