Paper Lions – Atlanta – Echo Lounge, GA – 2003-07-12

Paper Lions
Where: Atlanta – Echo Lounge, GA.

When: 2003-07-12

Atlanta-based free monthly Stomp and Stammer remains one of the most consistently informative and entertaining music magazines published today. Edited by long-time local rock scribe Jeff Clark, the S&S has started to branch out into concert promotion, and over the past couple years have helped bring several iconic punk and college-rock groups to Atlanta, often for the first time ever. The latest S&S-sponsored show featured legendary Mancunian roustabouts The Fall, performing their first Southeastern show since a 1993 Athens / Atlanta twofer, with local darlings (and Kindercore Records recording artists) the Paper Lions opening.

The Paper Lions have consolidated an impressive local fanbase with their rhythmically jagged punk rock. Early in the evening, a substantial portion of the crowd appeared to be well acquainted with the Lions, as most of the hubbub and hullabaloo that can drown out a support act’s sound was mercifully absent. The young group more than reimbursed the audience the price of their attention by engaging in a spirited – nay, passionate – defense of the mercurial powers of the rock-and-roll idiom. More Fugazi than Gang of Four, but nobody’s doppelganger, the Lions are one of the few Athens / Atlanta bands with roots in the mid-90s emo scene to successfully forge a path out of the post-Cap’n Jazz cul de sac. Their performance this evening surpassed the group’s already lofty live standards, proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that the flatness and slight sterility of their album must be the result of poor mixing or just a god-damned fluke. Overcoming the occasional dim lifelessness of that debut record, The Symptom and the Sick (whose weaknesses are highlighted by the frantic fury and vim and vigor of the band’s vituperative live-and-in-person shenanigans), these Lions and their aggressive post-punk rock and roll must be witnessed in order to be fully appreciated and embraced.

After a solid hour or so of nothing much more than drinking and gladhanding, Mark E. Smith’s familiar croak cut through the haze of audience conversation, courtesy of the now-traditional pre-show tape. It abruptly seized the crowd’s attention and then ran on for a good several minutes or so before the band dashed out on stage, sans Smith. The current line-up of the Fall looks to be an aggregate 10 years younger than Smith himself, which isn’t that odd, really, considering that Smith looks about 130 in flattering light. But so the group started up the first number, “Behind the Counter,” while everybody anticipated Mr. Smith’s arrival. A few minutes into the song he finally appeared to the roar of the crowd, looking rather dashing in his sportcoat, Polo-style shirt, and black workout pants, or at least as dashing as the ugliest man this side of Willie Magee possibly could. Despite the excitement of the crowd, MES remained somewhat subdued for most of the evening, barely engaging in any interaction with the crowd and with scant between-song ranting and a modicum of amp-knob-twisting and instrument unplugging. He did fiddle with the guitarist’s volume a bit, but his perambulations consisted for the most part of eventually dragging all the vocal mics to the center of the stage, wherein he quickly became tangled up in four or five microphone cables. Smith’s legendarily caustic disposition was held in check this night, and he actually seemed to be in good spirits for most of the show. There were no premature endings or fistfights with the drummer, and Smith passed the mic around to the audience upfront near the end of the show. Indeed, they even played a couple of encores. That’s a bigger surprise than if there had been a fistfight with the drummer.

With Smith’s good behavior preventing any sort of a ’98-style disaster, one was forced to actually pay attention to the music. The band was solid and fairly tight, but as persons were little more than anonymous placeholders for the next gaggle of stragglers to get roped in by the prospects of toiling for a prestigious British institution. Whereas the Fall was once a band, they’re now pretty much just MES and whatever random flukies he can cobble together any given night. Okay, not exactly, but longtime former bassplayer Steve Hanley and ex-guitarist Craig Scanlon were as vital to the Fall sound as Smith, and seeing a Fall without them (and without one of the Burns-Hanley-Wollstonecroft troika of drummers) feels slightly like watching a Fall cover band with the world’s greatest Mark E. Smith impersonator. This feeling was most clear when they would play songs from the 80s-90s, like “I Am Damo Suzuki” and “Big New Prinz”; the songs were good, technically, and it was a thrill to see them live, but it could have been any random assortment of guys (plus the one requisite girl) up there and it wouldn’t have been any different. They were workmanlike and solid but absolutely nothing spectacular. So perhaps the Fall really could be Mark E. Smith and your granny on bongos, as he pretty much alone made the show into something more than merely okay.