Rock & roll may never die, but Fall singer Mark E. Smith will still bury us all. When Iggy Pop drops in 2008—an onstage embolism during an ill-advised "We Will Fall" that sluices torso-vein blood over the first six rows—Smith will be healthy if drunken beyond consonants before a squirrelly capacity crowd somewhere on the continent. When Lou Reed kicks in 2010—alcohol poisoning after a despondent set at the Orange County Fair—Smith will put the Sonics' "Strychnine" back in the set that night for an audience too illiterate to get the wink. When Morrissey is felled by a jealous sniper (later ID'd by the feds as—predictably—a guitarist for a tribute band) at a 2012 Smiths convention in Yuma, Arizona, the gunman will float down the Colorado River to Mexico as Smith stutters through a knowing "New Face in Hell"—unsubtle but appropriate; they've written a lot of songs like that.
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And when Smith himself hiccups his last—late in the 21st century, when technology has finally developed enough to insert the Fall's entire discography directly into your brain (by 2084, they'll have special clinics for when the process goes awry; instead of methadone, they'll detox you with Pavement LPs)—devotees will haul his sarcophagus into a crypt built over Manchester's old Salford Docks (where our young prole art threat famously came to start his band). They'll round up everyone who's ever stepped onstage under the name of the Fall—by then, a veritable symphony orchestra of geriatric post-punk never-rans—and they'll seal them up alive, like Pharaoh with his attendants, to cater forever to the afterlife whims of Mark E. Smith (officially voted the greatest Mancunian of all time), who will never be sufficiently feared and revered until he is too safely dead to talk back.
"They never did a thing for me," Greil Marcus said in 2003; as justification for a roaring vacuum in his punk-crit (check your indexes, kids; they always go from "Fairytale in the Supermarket" to Faude, Jeffrey), that barely makes it to whimper, but he's still right. The Fall never did a thing for a lot of people, from the many record labels they left stranded to the many, many band members Smith uprooted and replaced to the many, many, many hopeful fans who slunk out of shows with their good taste limp between their legs ("Mark E. Smith is a wreck, and not in a cool way," reports correspondent Tippy Spangler. "I left halfway through their set—I got in for free and part of me still felt cheated out of something").
But in 1976, the Fall were already extricating themselves from punk; in 2006, leathery old Smith (did he scare you in 24 Hour Party People? They could only show him for five seconds, else they'd get an NC-17) is the prefix anti- incarnate, the anti-poet anti-leading an anti-band to anti-acclaim. Dismiss the Fall and he will anti-care; ignore that vacuum where they've always thrived and you've anti-ed a discography so deep it's better studied as cosmology, a sound so fluid and idiosyncratic it's almost a language itself. Get the guts to pay to see them and you're in for—variously—a freak show, a grave robbing, a scared-straight program, even a boxing match. We'll upgrade from curmudgeon to fucking asshole: Smith was arrested for assault after hitting wife/band mate Julia Nagle in New York; he had to go to alcohol counseling and the entire band quit . . . so he replaced them. You might want to punch him yourself—a direct hit wouldn't be too satisfying, though; most of his teeth are as long-gone as those early Fall singles—but what would be the point? Smith and whoever he's dragging behind him will still endure.
The Fall with the Talk at the Glass House, 200 W. Second St., Pomona, (909) 865-3802. Thurs., May 11, 7:30 p.m. $13-$15. All ages.