So, I'll admit right now that I like the Fall. I LIKE them. Do I adore Mark E. Smith? Does the Fall stir something deep inside of me? Well, no. But I was game to travel to Galway to see the Fall in a small venue, Roisin Dubh. We arrived before the opening act went on, and were pleasantly surprised to enjoy their set, though I can't for the life of me figure out who they were, even after an extensive search. Ah well. If anyone reading this knows, please let me know.
We stood at the front in anticipation. Who knew what would happen? No one, that's who. Because no one ever knows what's going to happen at a Fall show. The obvious die-hard fans made their way to the front. I settled in with a good view, with only one person in front of me: a relatively nondescript guy of medium height with a shaved head and a Current 93 t-shirt. He seemed pretty excited. Like, really excited. That's cool. I mean, I was at the front, what did I expect? But here's the thing. I've been to a lot of shows in the past 20+ years. Hundreds of shows of dozens of genres. I understand what is appropriate behavior depending on the band and their fans. And this guy didn't fit in. If you looked around, you'd see people nodding, singing along, maybe even jumping up and down with excitement. Maybe even jostling the crowd. That's cool. But Current 93 dude was flailing around, dancing as if the crowded space were his own personal disco floor. He kept doing this one really bizarre move where he'd crouch down, almost like he was tying his shoes, sticking his butt into whomever was next to him (usually me) and then he'd pop up again and flail around some more.
So I was getting annoyed. I actually started wishing I was drunk so I'd lack the inhibitions to stop myself from beating the crap out of him. But I took some deep breaths and let it slide. Ok, for a while. Then I guess I just got frustrated, so this one time when he leaned his butt into me while crouching over, I kneed him in the ass. Twice. And then when he stood up to do his flailing thing on me as he'd done so many times before, I shoved him. Twice. Not hard. Just "get the frig away from me" hard. But here's the funny thing. He said to me, "If you touch me again, I'm gonna call the guards!" (For my American readers, the guards refers to the police, not the bouncers of the venue.) So I said, "Hey, you've been hitting me way more than that, buddy!" And he was like, no I haven't. So I did an impression of him, flailing and dancing around, right up against him as he'd been doing to me. To the people around us, it must have looked pretty funny. Not to mention that this was all happening while the band was playing. But he relented, saying, "I'm going to keep away from you, because you're clearly crazy." And I thought, I can live with that. And he did. And I laughed my butt off.
About five minutes later, Current 93 guy put his hand out to me, and I shook it, even though it was sweaty and gross. Then he danced over to the other side of the stage and I didn't see him again. There's always that one person who has no notion of their own personal space and doesn't give a crap if they ruin the show for anyone else. And I know from experience that politely saying, "Hey, can you not flail around like that?" doesn't get the intended results. Sometimes you have to fight fire with fire. Or crazy with crazy. Or something.
But here's the thing about the show. The Fall is essentially a rotating roster of musicians who revolve around Mark E. Smith, who really is The Fall. The other members are incidental. He's famous for being wildly drunk, often too drunk to perform, or for doing extremely short sets. Everyone goes to see Mark E. Smith. And I suppose the anticipation of how he'll perform is part of the excitement. We were lucky because he played a fairly long-ish set (all things being relative). But I started to observe the band. The guitaritst was staring down at his guitar, sweat dripping off the tip of his nose. The drummer was drumming away. He did nothing when Mark E. Smith purposely knocked the microphone out of his bass drum. The bass player stood in one spot and dispassionately played his bass, and similarly did not react when Smith turned the knobs on his amp, distorting his bass. And the keyboard player, Smith's wife, came on stage with her overnight bag, which she hung from the keyboard stand, and her handbag strapped across her chest. She didn't even take her coat off when they came on stage for the encore. She didn't seem to crack a smile through the whole show, but watched Smith intently. When he stumbled off stage, she was the first to follow.
But as I watched the band, who had the demeanors of abused children onstage, my eyes traveled back to the enamored audience facing them. Then back to the band. Then back to the dancing onlookers. It was as if they were completely unaware of each other. The band seemed unaware of the adoring audience; the audience seemed unaware of the band's obvious sense of drudgery. And I thought this must be what it's like to watch someone have sex with a prostitute.
Don't get me wrong, I still enjoyed the show very much. How could I not? It was The Fall in a venue that fits like 140 people! And no matter what, it's a great band. But I did feel a little sad about the whole thing, knowing that something eats so deeply at Mark E. Smith, and by extension everyone he chooses to work with.
Here's a video I found on youtube from the show by someone with a far better camera than mine: