Brix & The Extricated, 100 Club, 29 May 2015

Brix Smith

As well as being steeped in jazz and blues, the 100 Club on Oxford Street also has its own special place in the annals of punk, so it was kind of fitting that tonight we would hear the music of a band that evolved from that scene. Indeed, played by the people we didn’t really expect to see performing those songs again.

The whole notion of tribute bands, and also of bands reforming for greatest hits tours, is oft debated, but Brix & The Extricated aren’t really either of those things. Much like former Spider From Mars Woody Woodmansey’s Holy Holy project and, I suppose, Peter Hook’s touring of the JD/NO back catalogue, it’s more a celebration of songs from a fondly remembered period in a bands career, featuring the people who played them (and, in this case, co-wrote them), and which are rarely, if ever, performed live anymore.

I got to the 100 Club mid way through the set of one time Fall support band I, Ludicrous, and the place was already filling up(tonight’s show had, in fact, sold out). There were apparently a number of well known faces in the crowd (not that I spotted any), though no word of whether well known Fall groupie Stewart Lee was present.

The band came on to a rousing cheer, especially so at the sight of Brix Smith-Start taking centre stage to the opening riff of U.S. 80’s-90’s. With a rhythm section made up of the brothers Paul and Steve Hanley (the latter being the longest serving member of the Fall, second only to Mark E Smith himself, and whose memoirs, The Big Midweek, apparently inspired this reunion), guitar duties taken on by Jason Brown (of former Inspiral Carpet Tom Hingley’s band) and another Fall alumnus (from the mid-noughties incarnation of the group), Steve Trafford, the Extricated are indeed venerable veterans of the Wonderful and Frightening World. All eyes, though, were on Brix – rolling back the years on a variety of guitars (including a fetching pink paisley Telecaster), and more than capably stepping into the shoes of her erstwhile partner. With the majority of tonight’s set coming from the Fall’s tenure on Beggars Banquet (which included what is generally regarded as one of the band’s finest albums, This Nation’s Saving Grace), where Brix had previously provided additional vocals, she was now in the limelight, and her interpretation of MES’ lyrics and delivery actually gave the songs a new twist.

What also surprised was how fresh everything sounded, even though much of the material is around 30 years old. Where other bands of a similar vintage may tart up their back catalogue with a few modern tweaks when playing live (yes, New Order, I’m looking at you), there were no such embellishments here. A pounding Feeling Numb (a personal fave, from 1995’s Cerebral Caustic, during Brix’s second stint in the band and a novelty in the Fall canon as it actually has a chorus) sounded like it could’ve been written last week, whilst L.A. was as ominous as ever. The playing was tight, and even though there was no onstage banter, you got the impression that they were enjoying themselves – something that would’ve been frowned upon by you-know-who.

There were a couple of pre-Brix tracks, namely Leave The Capitol and a towering Totally Wired, powered along by Steve Hanley’s bass. Amongst others, Deadbeat Descendant, C.R.E.E.P., 2 x 4 and a lithe Cruisers Creek made an appearance, whilst rounding off the first of two encores was, inevitably, Mr Pharmacist, the only song from this era that the Fall still regularly play (though curiously it was missing from the set when I saw them in Brixton a few weeks ago).

A single encore was clearly not enough for the crowd, and out the band came one last time for a blistering run through of New Big Prinz. The repeated refrain of “check the record, check the record, check the guy’s track record” could be apt when talking of Brix, the Hanleys et al, as their track record speaks for itself, and the songs we heard tonight were a reminder of a band in their prime.

Richard Pearmain

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