This review of former Fall members Brix And The Extricated’s show at Sticky Mike’s Frog Bar last November was originally planned for publication by the SOURCE after The Fall had played Koko, London later that month, a gig that never took place due to Mark E Smith’s ill health. It appears now in the wake of Smith’s death on 24th January 2018.
There might just be a handful of fans at tonight’s Extricated gig who know bandleader Brix Smith Start best from her TV and fashion work over the past decade. We’d lay bets, however, that most of crowd down in Sticky Mike’s basement tonight are here because of The Fall.
Brix was guitarist, vocalist and songwriter for the Salford group, and marriage partner of its iconic frontman Mark E Smith, for most of their 1980s popular peak, returning for a second, unhappy stint in the mid-90s. Taking their name ironically from The Fall’s 1990 album ‘Extricate’, Brix’s band almost completely comprises other ex-members of the group: long-serving bassist Steve Hanley, his drumming brother Paul and short-lived noughties Fall guitarist Steve Trafford (third guitarist Jason Brown arrived with the Hanleys via Tom Hingley And The Lovers).
As the Extricated start crunching through the thuggish stomp of ‘Something To Lose’, Brix enters in a glittering dark outfit, hood up, as if dressed for a magic ritual. There was always an occult element to The Fall, with their tales of mystery and horror, the psychic and the paranormal, and this flows into the Extricated’s music too. Brix’s lyrics for the Extricated’s debut album ‘Part Two’ are filled with revenge, violence and sex, set in the corrupted Californian environment familiar to the likes of Kenneth Anger and Anton LaVey.
Shrugging off her hood, Brix reveals bold, spidery eye make-up, Alice Cooper channelling Marc Bolan. As striking as her look is her voice, even stronger than in her Fall years, raised to a fierce yell as their version of ‘Feeling Numb’ climaxes. Like all the vibrant Fall songs scattered through tonight’s main set (‘2 By 4’, ‘U.S. 80s – 90s’, ‘Lay Of The Land’, ‘Deadbeat Descendant’, ‘L.A.’) it’s one that Brix originally wrote and, not always the case with Mark E Smith’s erratic approach to publishing, received a credit for. Brix and Steve Hanley played on all of these tracks the first time around, and they nail every one.
Their own songs show Brix’s talent for insistent guitar hooks is still there, despite her years away from making music, with ‘Teflon’ and ‘Valentino’ pushing their melodies home. Adapted from a song Trafford wrote for The Fall (the Hunter S Thompson tribute ‘Midnight In Aspen’), ‘Moonrise Kingdom’ brings a moment of delicacy, a nocturnal love poem.
As on the album, the show closes with a segue from ‘L.A.’ into Brix’s modern sequel ‘Hollywood’, a hymn to West Coast dreams and tragic lives (Dennis Wilson, Natalie Wood) cut short with a traumatic, screamed conclusion. Brix’s autobiography The Rise, The Fall, And The Rise details her Californian upbringing in brave detail and she performs the song with a lifetime of love and hate compressed within.
The encore brings two more Fall classics, ‘Totally Wired’ and ‘Big New Prinz’. Widely assumed to be a self-referential song on Mark E Smith’s part, the latter gains another layer of meaning thanks to Brix’s provocative extra lyrics (“I’m on my knees for the Hip Priest”). Both tonight’s performance and the Extricated’s album prove Brix’s instincts on returning to music were correct. Her songwriting voice and her band’s past work with The Fall are too important to disappear.
Sticky Mike’s Frog Bar, Thursday 2nd November 2017
Words by Stuart Huggett