Two concerts over the weekend brought the curtain down on the Hammersmith Palais, an atmospherically shabby dancehall dating back to 1919 that is set to be demolished by property developers. It wasn’t one of London’s leading venues, but it had character and history, and its destruction to make way for yet another office block at a time when live music is booming is a bewildering act of vandalism.
On Saturday, Damon Albarn’s band The Good, the Bad and the Queen took to the Palais’s stage to play a set of appropriately elegiac songs from their eponymous album. A self- consciously “London” band, they appeared in front of a mural showing a west London cityscape painted by their bass-player Paul Simonon, ex-member of The Clash. Old punks remember the Palais fondly because it was immortalised in The Clash’s song “White Man in Hammersmith Palais”, to which Simonon alluded in dramatic fashion when he suddenly produced an axe and hacked off part of the stage as a memento.
There was no sentimentality the following night when The Fall played. Mark E. Smith, the curmudgeon’s curmudgeon, has always disliked London – “this 10 times town” in the words of an old Fall song, “Leave the Capitol” – but the Mancunian now appears to feel terminal disgust for it. His first words on stage were a burst of incomprehensible invective about “your so-called capital”, which seemed to fire him up into delivering a short, blistering set drawn mainly from the band’s last two albums.
The Fall’s music has settled in a simple template: repetitive, hard- boiled riffs over which Smith barks discontented, bizarre lyrics. It can be hard work, as on “My Door Is Never”, a diatribe against the numerous musicians Smith has booted out of the band, but the formula can also prove electrifying. “Blindness” was the stand-out track, bringing the set to a close after a scant 40 minutes.
“Thank you for allowing us in your security area,” the exiting Smith sneered. “We’re off to civilisation.” Like the Palais’s impending demolition, he left a sour taste. It was an apt ending.