Brix and the Extricated at the Arts Club – Live Review
Shortly after Steve Hanley left The Fall in 1998, he and his brother Paul formed a band called ARK, which seems to have faded into the ether altogether except for this video. That song isn’t very good, and judging from the reviews the rest of their album isn’t too much of an improvement. They seem lost in the video, like they weren’t too confident of where they could go next. Brix and The Extricated seem to be a band in transition, playing new material alongside songs from their thirty-four cumulative years in The Fall, but the fifteen songs they played on Saturday night proved that they certainly don’t suffer from the same problem.
They began with a slightly cautious U.S. 80s-90s, maybe thrown by the low turnout, but they warmed up during the second song, Feeling Numb. Hearing this was a pleasant surprise – Feeling Numb was originally from the Nineties, a decade which saw The Fall slowly burn out and almost implode entirely, and this version sounded much more energetic than the one from the album. I’m not quite ready to say that it’s an improvement on the original, which has this loping beat to it with a charm of its own, but I’d love to see how they’d deal with more stuff from around this time. From the third song on they were completely into it, sounding as locked in as they ever have and burning through a selection of some of the best of The Fall’s strongest decade, taking in the iridescent L.A.. (with Paul supplying electronics from some sort of drum pad in the absence of a keyboard) and rushing into Totally Wired, one of their first really great songs.
One of the things that worried me before the gig was how Brix’s vocals would match up with Mark E. Smith’s originals. She has a perfectly good singing voice, as she proved on a version of The Adult Net’s Waking Up in the Sun, but although I’m not exactly sure how to classify what Mark does I wouldn’t say that he sung as much as barked, or intoned, or whatever the hell this is. I was impressed, however, by the way she managed to summon the energy of his vocals without falling into the trap of trying to replicate them outright. There are a couple of debts to Mark’s delivery, most obviously the addition of an extra syllable to the end of words (you can hear it best here), but overall she takes an approach that’s clearly her own, maybe less varied but also clearer and more straightforward.
They were more confident playing their older songs, which makes sense, but the energy they put into their new songs meant that they stood right up alongside them. Moonrise Kingdom straddled the line between old and new material, tweaking Trafford’s bassline from 2005’s Midnight in Aspen into something far bouncier, and Something to Lose stormed along on crushing bass and drums – `like Chelsea Dagger but not shit` was what I wrote down at the time, but that’s a snide way of putting it that ignores the occasional bursts of melody that pulse through it, letting light into what could have been a plod. However, the highlight of the non-Fall material, and possibly of the whole set, was a cover of The Temptations’ Ball of Confusion which took the heavier parts of the song and pushed them as far as they could, turning it into a six-minute, twin-bass vortex. I don’t know whether the band plans to stick with Fall material or strike out entirely on their own, and I didn’t get any impression from this set of any grand plan on their part, but these songs show that there’s a wealth of directions that they could take, and that it’s worth sticking around to see which one they choose.