The Fall, Cambridge Junction, March 8th

It's a little weird, being a not-that-obsessed Fall Fan and going to see The Fall. Mark E Smith's shifting band of musicians being one whose absurdly prolific output is measured in decades rather than albums, any casual admirer is advised to resign themselves beforehand to only knowing a few of the songs played. With this proviso acknowledged and accepted, and having taken into account the fact that The Fall are notorious for a sizeable minority of their live shows being painful displays of extreme shambolism(especially at the Junction…), you're ready to Hit the North.

On this particular night, The Fall were on top form.

What're they like? Well, they're like The Fall: unique, kinda ridiculous and yet absolutely right. Live, their sound is more direct and forceful than on record; less wrapped up in itself and its strange, spiralling parallel universe. Loud, full of impact and switched to attack mode, it's an aural tidal wave bearing down on the audience with Mark E Smith's lyrics perched on top waving a defiant battle standard. Disconcertingly, Smith himself is exactly as he appears in his incomprehensible, mumbled television interviews as he ambles round the stage re-mixing the sound at whim by fiddling with the amp settings. Precluding his words with a twitching of the face and a fumbling of the tongue, his vocals are slurred and illogical… and fit perfectly with the music when launched from the mouth of this loose-limbed, crumple-shirted man with an uncanny ability to make playing the frontman with such seemingly hostile materials look like the most natural thing in the world.

A strait-jacketed shambles which constantly threatens to atrophy beyond repair but which has enough momentum to prevent its doing so, The Fall are the primordial soup of music: a swampy mess from which great things emerge(start listing bands influenced by The Fall and you'll never stop) and which is somewhat otherworldly. Punishing attack-guitars, whiplash bass, a synth which always sounds slightly out of place, the whole coming together in a way which makes an impossibly perfect sense. And which also makes for a live show so objectively good that those who can't recite their multiple line-up changes in chronological order don't feel at all left out in the cold.

P.S. John Cooper Clarke was supposed to be supporting at this gig. At about 9:30 a steward came onstage to inform us that Mr Clarke would not be appearing on account of being hopelessly lost somewhere in the vicinity of Oxford. Apparently, he did have a map.