Nobody had banked on Fat White Family making it this far. So, the question is, now that they appear to have ridden out their rockiest waters, what now? It had seemed, during those palpitating, pupil-dilating first throes of notoriety earlier this decade that their raison d’être was to pharmacologically resuscitate the UK guitar community out of the landfill and back into our imaginations. They burned brightly, earned a colossal live reputation, smuggled out some solid but potential-unfulfilling studio material and then collapsed under the sheer long-term impossibility of it all.
The comedown was harsh. Guitarist Saul Adamczewski left the band when his substance issues became too much, whilst the other members were barely keeping on top of their own. The band began to take a back seat to their offshoots – The Moonlandingz, Warmduscher and Insecure Men, all doing excellent work. Their Hail Mary of sorts arrived when frontman Lias Saoudi gathered the troops back together and instigated a move to Sheffield, closer to several of the band’s Huddersfield roots. A signing to Domino Records followed, as did news of their third album, Serfs Up, which was released last month, their best studio output to date.
It is with this spirit of reinvention that they land in Manchester’s Ritz tonight. When I Leave from the new album is first, more of a scene setter than a barn burner. A seven-piece on stage with a triple guitar attack, they are somewhat mature now, a threat that must now be taken seriously. Saoudi, with his skinhead mullet swinging and his bare chest heaving, is unimpressed by everything that is not made by Fat White Family. I Am Mark E Smith rings out through the Ritz, the track that as much as any imagined this mania into existence. This is one of the very few bands that can rightly claim to be the next regeneration of the late The Fall man.
Alex White, a relatively new introduction to the band, offers them a wild card. Fringe Runner sees him implant lung-busting saxophone tones to proceedings, before later freaking out on his flute. They excel when they degenerate, when the stitches of their songs cannot hold any longer, when the explosion of repulsive fluids bursts the seams. The slow crawl of Bobby’s Boyfriend is untrustworthy; it is impossible to ignore the suspicion that the seemingly innocuous track could lash out with a deadly reflex at any moment.
They tour through their first two albums freely: Cream Of The Young and apocalyptic closer Bomb Disneyland from the first, Tinfoil Deathstar and Hits Hits Hits from the second. For seventy minutes, the mask never slips, it never comes close. Touch the Leather is still their mightiest calling card, an eruption at the front of the Ritz at its opening moments.
It must be said that the UK guitar music landscape is only marginally less dull than it was at time of the Fat Whites’ breakout, so their continued presence, and their continued dedication to disrupting the natural order, is very welcome. Like The Libertines in a previous generation, as soon as they became the poster boys for something, they became as easy to rip down as they were to hail, but oh how we still need leaders like Fat White Family to keep injecting the fuel. Somehow, they appear to be here for good.