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, one Mark E. 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). They're uncompromising, odd and stunning, almost as stunning as the fact that, 25 years after its inception, the Fall is finally playing St. Louis, and at the Creepy Crawl no less. Don't miss this show.