A smoke machine at a Fall concert? Had one of England's longest-lived and thorniest post-punk bands finally resorted to crass stage tactics? Hardly. There was one cloud of smoke when the Fall took the stage on Wednesday at the Palace, but it was probably meant as a parody of the rock 'n' roll world that the Fall is--and yet is not--a part of.

The Fall's importance lies in more than having stuck it out for nine years. Leader Mark E. Smith remains an individual voice in a world of pop replicants, delivering his sometimes arresting, sometimes impenetrable observations in a trademark snarl. "You will feel the wrath of my bombast," Smith proclaimed at the beginning of the set. He was only half-joking.

The isolation and bitterness of the older Fall seems to have been tempered by the bright contributions of Smith's wife, Brix (a Los Angeles native), and the group recently released its best album in years, "This Nation's Saving Grace." The Fall played with a new-found tightness and intensity at the Palace as it hammered out its repetitious, static soundscapes. As the band droned on, Smith raved on about topics like sedative addiction and a freaked-out "L.A."

Smith and company demand the kind of concentration and involvement that complacent pop fans are often unwilling to make. The loss is theirs.

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