The Fall *****
TO say that Mark E Smith is an awkward sort is akin to pointing out that the Labour Party isn't quite as left-wing as it used to be. The statement is so obvious as to be rendered completely redundant.
Therefore, it came as no surprise that the Fall's entrance at the Liquid Rooms last night wasn't exactly an exercise in polite showbiz normality.
Using some visuals to introduce your band is hardly a new concept, but Smith's decision to precede his set with forty-minutes of head mangling stop-start footage of luminaries from James Brown and the Jackson Five to a sweaty looking Vegas-era Elvis and a warped Barbra Streisand was interesting to say the least. The fact that the film was accompanied by pounding apocalyptic techno didn't exactly have the crowd nodding in appreciation either.
With tension levels palpable, the band's eventual entrance was the equivalent of a pressure-valve being released inside the venue.
Smith has never made things easy for people. After 30 years and countless variations in personnel, this son of Salford shows no sign of mellowing.
Smith's current band - the Fall is basically Smith with a moveable feast of expendable musicians - were picked up last year when his last vintage abandoned him midway through a US tour.
Seasoned Fall-watchers will know that it won't be long before the line-up changes again, but, on the evidence of last night's performance, fans and anyone with a love for diamond-hard rock and roll should seek them out before things implode again.
Much of the material was drawn from this year's album Reformation Post TLC which, on record, lacks some of the visceral punch of previous offerings.
That wasn't a problem here. With Smith filling the role of dead-eyed MC, tampering with sound-levels and stealing bandmates' microphones, there was a thrilling edge all through the set.
While never the clearest orator, Smith's half-formed and often indecipherable utterings seemed to spur his musicians on, their minimalist garage-rock riffs being driven by drums and two bass guitars directly into the solar plexus.
Despite looking every inch (and more) of his 50 years, there was little in the way of nostalgia from Smith, with only Wrong Place, Right Time from 1988's I am Kurious Oranj, Theme from Sparta FC from 2003's Country on the Click, and a version of country chestnut and Fall favourite White Lightning offered as an olive branch to fans desperate for oldies.
But that's why the Fall remain such an interesting proposition. Smith may not be the most contented soul in the world and he certainly isn't the nicest. But in a music scene desperately short of true originals, his unyielding misanthropy is a comforting blast of fetid air. Long may he fester.
The Fall play the Liquid Room again tonight