LIVE REVIEW: The Fall supported by Cabbage, The 99 Degree, Ritz Manchester, 19th April

'We know of course that Mark E Smith is never going to pander to the concept of ‘a band performance’ or ‘audience expectations’ but this is a performance. It’s a performance based on not performing. An anti-performance. Sadly, after a 30 year gap, it wasn’t a performance I enjoyed.'

The Fall at The Ritz

The Ritz must be a bleak place for an opening band. When The 99 Degree come on there is virtually no-one in the vast space in front of the stage. This doesn’t seem to faze them that much as they launch into their opening song.

Their sound is hard to describe – my notes taken as they played show a certain amount of indecision on my part as to their sound. Initially I had them pegged as almost psycho-billy sounding – it was all chanted shouty vocals and tribal drumming. Later in their set I describe them as sounding like the Cramps but without the fuzz and finally sounding like they were influenced by The Sensational Alex Harvey Band. This is no bad thing I don’t like bands to sound the same song after song and there’s a feel to their songs that makes it hang together.

As their set goes on the space starts to fill up and this seems to give them some confidence and for me they started to sound a whole lot better.

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The 99 Degree

My highlights were two of the later songs. ‘Roll Roll Roll’ is the song that sounded like it had been influenced by the Sensational Alex Harvey Band, the vocals had that same sound as SAHB’s cover of ‘Next’. And ‘Dead or Alive’ which at the time I described as sounding like ‘Kashmir’ as played by The Cramps.

I liked The 99 Degree a lot and I’d like to see them again in a packed venue – with a band like them I think you need it sweaty and heaving.

Cabbage, oh quite wonderful Cabbage. These guys put on a performance that is frankly awesome. Their sound is hard to place, their own website describes them as ‘neo post-punk’ – whatever that means – but to me it sounds like they’ve they’ve absorbed quite a lot of my record collection and mixed it into something brilliant. Yes there’s post-punk, but there’s also mutant surf, mutant psych garage and even something that sounds like a blues influenced 80s AOR track – not that they’d thank me for that. And joyfully for me there is one song that sounds like they’ve been listening to one of my favourite bands Cardiacs.

Visually what you’ve got is a wild haired bass player who does a lot of head banging, a guitar playing singer and a guy that sings (although later in the set he changes to playing guitar and singing and the guitarist who sings just sings – if you understand that). There are also another guitarist and a drummer but they don’t seem to be the visual focus of their stage performance, at least to me.

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The guy who just sings is wearing what I can only describe as the finest example of a Christmas jumper I’ve seen in a long time and what appears to be a pair of leisure slacks. For a guy whose role is to sing and throw himself around the stage, on the stage and off the stage this seems a strange choice. It isn’t long before first the jumper and then his t-shirt comes off.

There’s lots of people who’ve clearly just come to see Cabbage (and probably are not interested in The Fall all that much), and there’s a crush down at the front.

The key things about the band is that they can actually play and the songs are really catchy. Not knowing any of the songs I just let it wash over me, really really enjoying the experience. The song highlight for me was the aforementioned 80s AOR sounding track ‘Tell Me Lies About Manchester’.

Cabbage are wonderful, I recommend catching them as soon as possible.

I last saw The Fall when Brix Smith (now Smith-Start) was in the band in the 80s, I’m guessing this was around 84, 85 or 86, although I can’t remember where I saw them. I just never got around to seeing them again. So it was with a fair amount of excitement that I had made this trip to see them.

A Fall gig is always an event and that was certainly how many of the audience were treating it. There was lots of taking of pictures of each other, I’m guessing so they could say “I was there”. You also just don’t know what is going to be played or how Mark E Smith is going to be on stage.

So we waited, we waited for just that bit too long, and then the band appeared. Not Mark initially just the musicians. They started to play something which was quite repetitious – to be honest all of the songs had repetitious music. At this point I have to say that the band are good, they sounded very good.

Mark came on and started ‘singing’ (we all know he doesn’t quite sing but I’m going to say sing for the purpose of the review). I’m not sure anyone could hear what he was singing or work out what song it was. I know there were songs as the music stopped and started again – sounding different – several times during the set. Somebody actually asked me if I knew what song they were playing about halfway through the set, I said I had no idea and nor did anyone else standing near us.

He used all of the microphones on stage to sing into during the songs, and frequently used two together – not that this made the words any clearer. At first I thought this was because there were problems with the sound and he was just trying to find a mic that worked properly but then I realised it was part of the performance. During the bits when he wasn’t singing he stalked the stage fiddling with amps and occasionally using a small keyboard to add random sounding sounds.

At least some of the audience seemed to be enjoying it, there was quite a scrum in front of the stage. However, for me, the level of enjoyment seemed to diminish the further away from the stage you got. Certainly the large group of Cabbage fans I was standing by during most of The Fall’s performance seemed somewhat slightly confused by the whole thing. Probably not Fall fans of the future I’d guess.

We know of course that Mark E Smith is never going to pander to the concept of ‘a band performance’ or ‘audience expectations’ but this is a performance. It’s a performance based on not performing. An anti-performance. Sadly, after a 30 year gap, it wasn’t a performance I enjoyed.

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Frank is the website guy for Local Sound Focus. Takes a lot of photos and loves writing about new music.