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Tramshed, Cardiff, Fri 3 Feb

“It’s nice for The Fall to have a decent support band for once,” comments one gig-goer on entering the venue. True enough – but ‘decent’ rather undersells Bo Ningen. Inviting the Japanese foursome, who formed in London, to open proceedings is either very brave or very foolhardy.

Bloody immigrants, coming over here, laying waste to our culture, exploding the earnestness and amplifying the absurdities of the white, Western, heterosexual, masculine musical traditions of psych, prog and heavy metal with a combination of deliberate androgyny, winsome glee and thrilling intensity. The entire set is like the climax of most bands’ final song, guitarist Yuki Tsujii whirling his instrument around his head amidst the sonic gale the only real indication that the end is nigh. Anyone not applauding at the end is surely either stunned into silence or suffering from male pattern baldness and therefore envious of their copious tresses.

Mark E Smith isn’t follicly challenged just yet, but he is showing signs of age. As befits someone set to turn 60 in a month’s time, Smith – these days looking like the bastard lovechild of Nicholas Witchell and Toby Jones if he was brought up in a hedge and raised on a diet of paint stripper – is overly formally dressed for the occasion, appears perpetually on the verge of expectorating a lung and shuffles around with the occasional air of a man who can’t quite remember what he came into the room for.

And yet overall it’s business as usual for The Fall: mysteriously magnetic frontman Smith barking aggressively and – aside from the odd snippet (“George, I hate your fucking guts”, “I’m sorry I hurt you”, something about a Curly-Wurly) – incomprehensibly, like a bus-stop drunk berating the local pigeons, over the diligent post-punkabilly backing of his band, whose patience and consummate professionalism he tests by tampering with amps and cymbals mid-song. (At least since Elena Poulou, his third wife, cracked and quit the band last year, he no longer has to elbow her out of the way to tinker atonally on the keyboard.) It’s a gripping sonic and visual clash between order and chaos.

A rambunctious Mr Pharmacist ringing in the ears, we leave reflecting on the truth of John Peel’s claim that The Fall “are always different; they are always the same”. At a time of global political turmoil and crisis, it’s reassuring to know that some things never change.


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