The Fall @ Òran Mór, Glasgow, 30 July
In 1988 Mark E Smith joined fellow maverick songwriters Nick Cave and Shane MacGowan for a drink in a south London boozer. The occasion was a magazine interview; the hook that the trio were 'the last heroes of rock'n'roll'. The resulting feature saw Smith mercilessly take the piss out of his contemporaries, as well bemoan the fact pop music is "too bloody easy for people."
Fast-forward 28 years and Smith is still leading The Fall in cantankerous fashion. Tonight, the world's most celebrated band from Prestwich, Greater Manchester, are headlining Òran Mór – a 500-capacity basement venue in Glasgow's leafy West End. It's the kind of place Cave and MacGowan have long since outgrown. In comparison, Cave last year sold-out the 2,400-capacity Royal Concert Hall in the city centre.
The Fall could easily perform at larger venues if they so wished. Many promoters have tried – and failed – to persuade Smith to play the kind of nostalgia-friendly sets that MacGowan now survives on. Plenty of folk would pay to see a show filled with songs from the group's celebrated early-to-mid-80s period. But playing the game has never been Smith's style. Tonight's gig follows The Fall's long-established working practices: we're treated to a bracing selection from their most recent LP, 2015's Sub-Lingual Tablet, a couple of new tracks, and one 'oldie' – that being 2003's seminal Theme From Sparta FC. Anyone hoping to hear Totally Wired or Lie Dream of a Casino Soul will be sorely disappointed.
The band are as solid as any Fall line-up in recent memory. They power through Venice With the Girls like a blacksmith hammering out horseshoes; not one but two drummers adding a powerful dynamic. Given one of the sticksmen reportedly only arrived in the country hours before tonight's show, it's an impressively tight performance. Smith barks away over the top, occasionally fishing for a tattered piece of paper that presumably has lyrics written on it. By the time Auto Chip 2014-2016 begins, a stand-out track from their recent releases, Smith has already wandered offstage once, only to be led back on.
Tonight's set poses a few questions for long-term fans. For example, will we ever see the return of Smith's wife to the group, sometime-keyboard player Eleni Poulou? She has arguably contributed more to the group in the last ten years than anyone bar MES himself. And when can we expect a new album to be released? By Fall standards, a 14-month wait is an eternity. For now, we can console ourselves with the fact the group remain a vital live presence.