At the end of my interview with The Fall's Mark E. Smith a few weeks ago, he invited me to join him and the band to "hang out together" when they got to Moscow. I was considering taking MES up on his offer. Until I saw The Fall's first concert two Fridays ago at Sixteen Tons.
The first night was billed as a "fan's night." As a treat the band showed up two hours late. Mark E. Smith took to the stage, bleary-eyed, sour and sucking his teeth. He wore a cheap Belarusian-looking glove on his left hand, contemptuously tried to rearrange the stage more to his liking, spilling equipment and mike stands. The noise, volatility and unglamourousness of it all was too much for some Russians -- they started filing out. But for hardcore Fall fans it was one of the greatest shows ever. "The ultimate anti-pop show," as one friend put it, in a country of pops.
Even though Smith has claimed he "loves repetition," the fact is that over the past several years, he has been constantly rearranging and destroying The Fall in order to keep it fresh and revolutionary. Like Chairman Mao, who also supposedly "dug repetition," Smith rightly needs the constant sense of chaos and volatility to keep The Fall fresh. And like Mao, he also has his band members in a constant state of fear.
After the show, I saw the Sixteen Tons promoter, Pasha, who looked like he'd been to hell and back. That was enough to convince me to stay away from MES. Later, another person connected to the show described working with Smith this way: "The motherfucking shithead cunt! I've never worked with such a fucking asshole in my fucking life! He thinks he's Mick fucking Jagger or something!" A taxi driver told me that the band left at 5am, fistfighting their way out of the club. "It's true, Mark E. fought with the band. They were all drunk." Supposedly the only way he was convinced to take the stage on the second night was after they were threatened with getting kicked out of their hotels and having their airline tickets revoked.
It worked: the second night the band was only 45 minutes late.
As many have noted, Smith looks physically awful. Liquor, speed and bile take their toll. On the other hand, so what. He's the only rock artist ever to maintain his genius over 25 years, and his wife...I dare any 47-year-old expat sugar daddy to come up with a wife that beautiful. MES is living just about the only life worth envying.
Still, you get the sense that even Smith knows it could all come to an end soon. During a loud and fast version of Mr. Pharmacist, he changed one of the verses at the end, singing