The Fall, The Coronet (11 May 2012)

A former theatre and cinema in that most unloved part of London, the Elephant and Castle, the Coronet has been undergoing a bit of a renaissance these last few years as a club and gig venue. Passing through metal detectors and by flustered door staff on my first visit, though, didn’t really instil much confidence in me (especially as I remembered a story from a mate of mine who swore blind that he was once robbed by a dwarf there), but I guess that air of edginess seemed fitting for an appearance by the Fall.

It was approaching 10pm before the band came on (Eleni Poulou, the current Mrs Smith, hanging her handbag from the keyboard stand), kicking off with a new track, Damflicters. To the cheers of the gathered faithful (many of whom were, shall we say, of a certain age and looking as though they had  been sampling more than just a few wares from the local watering holes), Mark E Smith made his appearance, ambling on stage and declaring “we are the Fall!” The years haven’t been kind to Smith, if you’ve ever seen footage of his younger self spitting invective into his mic, but he’s still very much the centre of attention, and still very much in control of the band – wandering up to the amps to fiddle with the controls, and giving the signal to bring a song to an end.

The set list was, as ever, mainly made up of the Fall’s current output though, with the exception of Nate Will Not Return and Cosmos 7, material from last year’s long player (Ersatz GB) was strangely absent. 2010’s Your Future Our Clutter was better represented, with a woozy Chino, a galloping Cowboy George and the stomping Bury (complete with typically ad-libbed lyrics) being notable examples. Eleni had her moment centre stage as well, with lead vocals on I’ve Been Duped and, in a rare delving into the Fall’s sizeable back catalogue, we were treated to Psykick Dancehall from their second album, Dragnet, and Cab It Up! from 1988’s I Am Kurious, Oranj. There were a couple of 60s garage covers as well, including the Sonics’ Strychnine (a live Fall favourite).

MES seemed in good form and, as well as his usual antics, he invited a bit of audience participation by flinging a microphone into the mosh pit (as Poulou made sure that he didn’t topple off the stage whilst doing so). A few choice words were directed by Smith to one of the front of stage security guys, who had appeared to attract his ire earlier on, and I did notice that the bouncers were very visible throughout the night, wandering through the crowd and flashing their torches. Oh well, I guess that’s the Elephant and Castle for you.

After an encore of Reformation and that hardy perennial, Mr Pharmacist, Smith left the stage mentioning something about “heading for the retirement home”. Reading into his jokey statement, the general feeling seemed to be that the end is nigh for this current line-up. When the lights came back on, but with no-one dismantling the equipment and no music on the PA, there was a sense that maybe old MES was teasing us with the prospect of a second encore (which the Fall did do, to everyone’s surprise, at Koko last year), but tonight it wasn’t to be.

A typical Fall performance then, but perhaps also the closing of another chapter in the band’s enduring story.

Richard Pearmain

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