I don’t believe there is such a thing as the definitive Fall. Such is the nature of the group that often even their most together and clear headed releases seem like snapshots of an ever evolving, never settling entity. Much is made of the ever changing Fall line up, and even though we have already gone through a few members, the core - give or take a drummer, has not changed since Dragnet, way back in the mists of time.
However, a key personnel change has occurred - Marc Riley has left the building, the final shedding of a vestigial limb. Exiting in some acrimony, perhaps you feel, due to the desire to be more of a personality than being a Fall ‘musik arbeiter’ allowed. The ‘Happy Fall Guitarist’ has the temerity to dance to ‘Rock The Casbah’ in a NZ disco, prompting a physical altercation with MES and a steep decline in relations. Anyway, regardless of the soap opera stuff, The Fall has lost a key member.
Change represents opportunity if you embrace it. What makes Austurbæjarbíó: Live in Reykjavík fascinating, is it’s a glimpse at a very short lived incarnation of the band - post-Riley and just pre-Brix (more on her next edition). A brittler Fall, Scanlon’s sparse guitar set against the double drummer and bass onslaught. It’s ace, and what’s more a unique Fall Sound. A lot of the tracks are new and will be appearing on an album that we’ll be getting to next, and perversely, or appropriately, this soundboard recording taken from a 1983 club show in the far, far north contains the superior versions.
Sparse, stripped down, but there’s less noise and more clarity. Precision - not the Hex onslaught, or the Room To Live murk, everything breathes, everything sits in it’s space. Particularly the vocals of MES - he intones, he’s direct, he make that clipped shrieking noise, buzzing noises, stretches our syllables, builds and releases tension in a what is essentially an very impressive vocal performance. There’s an element of drunk-myself-sober weariness to his tone, but with a very specific commanding directness. Intimate even.
So, personally, I love this recording - for its oddness, for performance and for the generally rather exciting nature of the music. I don’t want to talk about individual tracks too much because I’d rather look at them in the album context next time. However, some specific highlights:
The ‘best British attention to the wrong detail’ is expanded on, in what is possibly my favourite version of The Classical:
Dear Customer. Prior to delivery, this fine Ford Kawasaki XL Escort was given a thorough inspection by Fred here in the white coat. Please note - the coin slot on the dashboard. Please note - the fuel exhaustion limit reader. Please note the elephant house aroma of the dashboard.Pete’s perennial hate object, Look Know. Well I love it, but this version is particularly pointed, aggressive, sarcastic - ‘He was the first to wear an idiotic jacket in a club...There’s a microbe attached to their brains which itches...’. The sardonic backing vocals of the Fall workers at the back.
Backdrop. This occurs occasionally on live recordings but as far as I know never got a ‘proper’ recorded release, which is a shame because it is, in the words of Melvyn Bragg on the In Our Time Fall episode, ‘fucking immense’. I could imagine this as a full on balls to the wall Hex number, but this version simmers away, building up for a full 12 minutes. A twisting, conspiracy laden narrative that takes on the Leciester YOP instructor who may be having some issues with reality, time, place and military history. Set against a backdrop which ‘shifted and changed’:
It's about time you started thinkingFive minutes in - there’s maniacal hollow laughing. Everytime I hear it I find it hard not to join in, before the admonishment - ‘You wouldn’t laugh! You wouldn’t laugh’. Marvellous. So really, give this live album a listen, it is is essential, even for the casual listener.
About the black dog on your back
Said it's about time you started thinking
About the rerun which is your life
Ok, I confess, I have an akward relationship with live albums. As a music fan this is something that I try to ignore, try to swallow away, but ultimately to my shame I know deep deep down that whereas I think I ought to enjoy a document a document of a gig, generally I struggle to engage with them. There are exceptions of course (many of them by Bob Dylan), but here's the thing - unless a band rip up the template and significantly veer away from the studio recording, I more often than not just begin to pine for the 'original'. I think that my band mates will already know this, but when many musicians thirst for the stage, I get very giddy when I've a glass of wine, a multitude of instruments around me, Andy Wood ready to press record, and a licence to play. This is quite possibly a hangover of my first musical obsession - some obscure 60s band who eschewed the stage and saw the studio as an instrument - but unfortunately it remains with me, meaning that more often than not live albums slip from under my gaze when I'm selecting what I want to listen to. For me, a live performance is a individual, unique thing. Wherever you may be, whoever you may be seeing, you'll be the only person to get the exact view that you had, the only person to experience that hour or two exactly the way you experienced it. The people you went with, the beer you drank, the randoms you danced next to, the sweat that you… sweated - it is these things that make your gig, these things that garnish the memory of the music. The moment that that music is crystallised then that uniqueness is diluted, and I find myself unable to tune into the 'energy', the 'mood', all the things that normal people seem to find enthralling. So I confess ladies and gentlemen - in general I find it difficult to truly dig recordings of live music. I'm sorry. However, I'm no fool, and when something worthwhile pricks my ears then I know that its worth tuning in, and Live In Reykjavik is indeed very worthwhile indeed. Well recorded, very well played, and with what sounds like a reasonably large and appreciative audience, this time's offering is not only brand new to me, but allows us an insight into the Fall at this potentially difficult post-Riley moment. And lets be honest here, The Fall seem to be a band that thrives on 'potentially difficult', to the extent that sometimes sacking a pretty much founding member of the band serves as a tonic. There's very little MES chit-chat here, and you get a sense while listening that its baton down the hatches time, retreat to to each other and come out as a unified fighting force. The twin drums and singular guitar attack form a scathing, spiky sonic space (though I feel sure that at points - I Feel Voxish most clearly - someone, presumably Karl Burns, has moved onto some instrument or other to provide a bit more harmony. Though quite what that instrument is I'm really not sure), and MES is very, very focused, enunciating clearly, and reveling in yet another pretty brand new set of tunes which lyrically are a clear step up from Room To Live. This angular sound reminds me at points of early Talking Heads, a connection only reinforced by MES's vocal tics and affectations which feel very fresh. I don't want to go into detail about the songs, as almost all of them will crop up on the next album, suffice to say that The Classical is tight and huge, Look, Know as good as its ever going to be, and Backdrop brand new top my ears I think, which is always a nice surprise. The rest are often long, invariably brilliant, and sometimes very, very funny. So, thought this is a short contribution from me do not be fooled - Live at Reykjavik is a superb document of the outset of this new Fall and highly recommended.