This exchange happened after the Fall’s gig at Brownie’s on the Lower East Side of NYC on April 7, 1998:
Fan 1: “That was the scariest thing I ever saw. Now I know who I want to go as for Halloween.”
Fan 2: “You mean Mark E. Smith? You don’t understand…he’s not usually like this.”
Fan 1: “Oh, that’s too bad. I feel like I finally saw my first real punk band! That was the greatest show I ever saw in my life.”
That reaction merely scratched the surface of what happened that night. An actual fight broke out between longtime Fall drummer Karl Burns and frontman Mark E. Smith midway through the set. Before the sun would rise the next morning, Mark E. Smith would be arrested for assault. Even more momentously, it would emerge that the three members of the then-quintet who left the stage in the middle of the final song had played their last Fall gig ever, including Burns, who had been with the band since 1977, and Steve Hanley, the Fall’s utterly essential bassist who had been slogging it out with Mark E. Smith since 1979. The combination of Hanley and guitarist Craig Scanlon, who had left the band in 1995, was every bit as crucial to the Fall’s elusive brilliance during the early 1980s as MES himself, as can be witnessed on such phenomenal albums as Perverted by Language, This Nation’s Saving Grace, and Hex Enduction Hour. (Few pieces of music bring me as much joy as the lengthy “Garden” off of Perverted by Language.)
It couldn’t have been easy being such a close compadre of volatile genius/crabapple Mark E. Smith for two decades, but in April 1998 frustrations boiled over. Three days earlier, tempers had flared during a show in Philadelphia; Hanley and Smith got into a “fight,” according to WPRB DJs who attended the gig, and half the band quit the stage in disgust, leaving just Smith and keyboardist Julia Nagle on the stage (which would happen again a few days later at Brownie’s). After the show there was an extensive discussion of the fracas on WPRB (this clip is very entertaining). Julia’s rebuttal, written ten years after the fact, can be found here, along with that clip:
the UK tour prior to the US had also been a shambles, as the group had received a large VAT/TAX bill and were not happy chickens (threats of houses being lost etc. were the main topic of conversation or argument). Also, regarding to the incident at the beginning of the US tour, I defended myself with my fists during an argument about sharing a room with Mark and in the morning he had a black eye from that fracas. (there were many fracas’s during this time in The Falls history and they were nothing to be proud of).
At Brownie’s—let’s start with the fact that the first half of the show is of a pretty high quality. I saw the Fall seven years later at the Hiro Ballroom—another clusterfuck, as Smith left the stage after maybe 25 minutes. But that combo didn’t sound one-sixteenth as good as the gang does for the first few tracks here. During “Free Range,” around minute 24 on this clip, Smith starts fucking around with Burns’ drum kit, removing the spare sticks and strewing them on the ground, Burns leaps over the kit and starts shoving Smith around. Go here for a pretty wacky description (in the form of quotes) as to the events during the gig. Amazingly, after all of that the band got their shit together for six more songs before Burns, Hanley, and guitarist Tommy Crooks split during the final song, the aptly titled “Powder Keg.” One wonders if they had any inkling that they had just played their last gig as members of the Fall. In any case a couple of hours later Smith was arrested for assault and that was that: “The on stage brawl on the 7th continued back at the hotel before management finally called the cops and Mark was arrested. He spent about 48 hours in NYC lockup near the WTC. Steve, Karl, and Tommy Crooks quit and flew back to Manchester.”
The Fall would stay together—indeed, are intact even today, having played a gig as recently as January 2015—but the essential core of the band would never be re-constituted.
Thank you Edward Ángel Sotelo!