I saw the Fall last night at the Black Cat in DC. I may be risking my credibility as a Fall-geek here, but I was a little underwhelmed with the show. This version of the Fall is a competent, professional group, but they lack that certain spark that Craig Scanlon and Brix Smith gave to prior incarnations. Live, you could strip away Mark E. Smith's vocals and they wouldn't sound much different from any number of the post-punk revivalists who have copped from the Fall. And MES was oddly subdued last night, although that could be partly explained by the godawful sound system at the Black Cat (which pushed his vocals way too low in the mix and muddied the sound to the point where you couldn't make out much of the lyrics) and partly due to his recovery from a broken leg. (Mark E. was stationed behind a desk all night, which actually enhanced his oddly compelling not-really-pleased-to-be-there stage presence.)
A lot of people I know who've listened to the Fall and not liked them have registered the same complaint: "every song sounds the same." I don't get that sense at all from listening to the albums, but I could see their point if you judged them solely on last night's show. With a few exceptions, everything was stuck in the same plodding mid-tempo groove without the dynamics that are usually present on their albums. Nevertheless, there were highlights: the version of "Middle Mass" turned the main riff into insane calliope music, "Mountain Energei" actually outdid the album version with a relentless drum-led attack, "Mere Pseud Mag. Ed." was pounded out ferociously at a level comparable (if not superior) to the original, and "Theme from Sparta F.C." worked perfectly as a barroom chantalong. But overall, it was a decent but unspectacular and uninspiring outing.
Ah, well. No one ever said being a Fall fan was easy. And it could've been a lot worse.