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The Fall, with Low Flying Owls

Sunday, May 2

You could always dance to the Fall, always bang your head and shake your ass as one, always shout along to the choruses, some of which were as simply beautiful as a man and a woman screaming, "C-R-E-E-P" into the microphone over and over again as two or sometimes three guitars wound barbed wire around vocalist Mark E. Smith.

Springing from the same late-'70s Manchester scene that sproinged Joy Division, the Fall is one of the great post-punk bands -- if not the greatest -- a rolling mess of guitarists, bassists and drummers who swarm around the king bee, Smith. In his prime Smith was as grim as Ian Curtis, but instead of killing himself, he's devoted his life to wallowing and roaring about how fucked up life is. As the Fall's founder and only consistent member, he has been making records nonstop -- about 30 studio recordings and a handful of live records -- for 25 years, each as messy and abrasive and thrilling as the last. The template: lots of guitars, one of which is usually scribbling some sort of melody around a dancy drum beat; a monotonous bass line; and Smith's flat, conversational ranting.

Smith took the British punk movement's philosophy -- here are three chords; run with it -- and juggled it all up until the three had morphed into a dozen really fucked-up quasi-chords. The result: crooked melodies that are immediately hummable but never saccharine. Sonic Youth's Evol, Sister and Daydream Nation owe a hefty debt -- and they're the first to admit it -- and it's safe to say that Pavement's Slanted and Enchanted would never have arrived without the Fall's sensibility. So many bands swiped riffs and ideas from the Fall that Smith should be enjoying quiet days at a retirement pub somewhere. You can hear the Fall in Sleater-Kinney, the Rapture and the Faint, and the band's quintessential records from the mid-'80s -- This Nation's Saving Grace, The Wonderful and Frightening World of the Fall and Bend Sinister -- are ripe for legacy reissues (if only Smith would get his shit together).

Mark E. Smith of the Fall
Mark E. Smith of the Fall

Sacramento's Low Flying Owls join a number of Jesus and Mary Chain-wearing bands from the Golden State rampant in the land at the moment -- see also the Stratford 4, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, the Brian Jonestown Massacre and the Warlocks. LFO is a little more on the Pink Floyd/Spiritualized side of this trendlet -- their fine new CD, Elixir Vitae, is heavier on the psychedelics than the walls of squalling guitar feedback noise of their Scots forerunners. Their tune "Glad to Be Alive" will make you feel that way, and it may sound familiar, as it was aired on a Sopranos episode and in a Nissan commercial.

 
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