While most of the civilised North East was on the sofa, in front of Eurovision, on Saturday night, a few hundred fans of The Fall weaved in and out of stumbling hen parties on Newcastle Quayside, before filing into the Riverside venue to see their band.
The stage was set in front of two huge canvas: one bearing “The Fall” lettering and another with a sort of ransom note collage bearing a reference to their 31st studio album - Sub-Lingual Tablet.
The decaying party venue was bathed in red and blue lights as five of the band darted out from stage right to applause from punters peeling their feet from the sticky floor to get closer.
Despite the sweaty room, keyboardist Elena Poulou was sporting a bulky red ski jacket. The rest of the group wore short sleeve shirts and jeans. A rogue backing track fired into life across the PA before they settled.
On shuffles Mark E. Smith. A messenger bag spilling pieces of paper swings from his shoulder as the group roll into the first number - Systematic Abuse.
“Systematic abuse, it’s the whole truth,” he shouts. The sound is thick with howling and feedbacking, exacerbated by Smith’s patented onstage interference with levels.
He moves between microphones, seemingly looking for a sweet spot. He tampers with the guitar amplifier settings. He jabs wildly at one end of the keyboard. The shtick is like a stress test for the band, who are incredibly well oiled.
Keener Fall fans then me could verify this lineup’s ranking within the group’s fraught history. They are the longest serving in the band’s near 40-year lifespan, and it shows.
Dual drumkits and taught bass set a muscular backbone to the performance. The keyboard pitch bends in the evil, pulsing number ‘Dedication Not Medication’. The skeletal guitar buzzes - through ‘Venice With The Girls’ and chimes on the motorik ‘Autochip 2014-2016’.
Here Smith draws second drummer Daren Garratt - now lathered in sweat - out to stage front. He’s handed the microphone to lead proceedings as Smith, somewhat uncharacteristically, dances with a cheesy grin on his face.
A few heads bob up and down on the floor. Some enter a kind of krautrock-induced stupor with only their shaking legs providing signs of life.
Others reach out to Smith, who has now lost his elbow-patched harris tweed blazer and careers about the stage with shirt sleeves rolled up and untidy side parting flapping about his forehead.
He periodically loiters off stage as the band plough on: peeking behind the Riverside’s dirty ceiling height curtains to investigate the outside, or haunting the guitarist who timidly looks over his shoulder for incoming obstacles.
Smith’s insistence on poaching microphones from his band and thrusting them towards amplifiers causes piercing feedback that forces those nearer the front to recoil. At one point he gazes to the back of the room, back straight, and looks to be saluting the crowd. No, he’s just picking earwax from his lugs.
The drummer tilts a sympathetic head and points to his watch as the band leave to cries for more. The Fall are still dangerous, that’s for sure.