The Membranes

If you’re a punk fan, you’ll probably know that the Membranes were an integral part of the punk scene in the 70’s (and the post-punk scene in the 80’s).  If it wasn’t for the Membranes, and the other bands that started up at the same time, there wouldn’t have *been* a scene.

The band has always been about as DIY as you can get – to be any more DIY, their lyrics would have to be about plumbing.  Case in point – when the band first started, they didn’t have a drummer.  Not to be put off, they used two bin lids.

How many bands these days would do that?  How many of the school leavers who start a band would care so much about the fundamental soul of music that they’d make their own bass guitar?  Then, despite not knowing how to play, they invented their own chords and tuning scheme so that they could get the sound they wanted.  There’s a lot of people these days bemoaning their lot in life; the attitude of the ’70s was this – don’t wait around for things to happen.  That was the point of Do It Yourself culture.  In their most recent album, they’re reported to have used a plastic bucket, some rocks they banged together, and a fire escape (like, literally played the fire escape itself).

The Membranes embody everything I love about punk.  They don’t conform to anything.

And while I always assumed I’d catch them at Holiday In The Sun (now called Rebellion festival), I actually ended up seeing them at Thursday’s Therapy? gig.

Surprisingly, they were the supporting band.  Given that I’ve also seen Alice Cooper as a supporting band, that doesn’t really mean what people think it means.  Which pretty much sums up the Membranes.  They are deliciously obscure and delightfully inscrutable.  I love that.

The line up is: John Robb as the frontman and singing and playing the bass and mouth organ, Rob Haynes on drums (and apparently anything else he can hit) – there was also something that looked like a large greek vase with a skin stretched over it, which I thought was a stool until he started hitting it.*  There were also two guitarists – Peter Byrchmore and Nick Brown.

*I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t know much about music, but I know what I like and I know that I like stuff that sounds good and I don’t care what instruments (if any) it’s played on.

Here’s some pictures (email invokedelight@gmail.com if you are in the band and want the full size versions of any of these at no charge for use on your website etc, the full size versions have better definition but they don’t fit on my site due to the cost of data):

The Membranes band Leeds 3rd March 2016 The Wardrobe.
The Membranes.
The Membranes band Leeds 3rd March 2016 The Wardrobe.
The Membranes.

What I liked most was the amount of energy they had on-stage.  I mean, they were fizzing with more energy than calcium carbonate that’s had acid dropped on it (which is pretty fizzy).  They seemed to be playing their own thing, as if the audience’s lack of enthusiasm  was inconsequential (the crowd weren’t biting… until they suddenly were).

The Membranes band Leeds 3rd March 2016 The Wardrobe.
The Membranes.

I said yesterday about how when I don’t know the music, I’m quite happy to go along with it as long as it’s sounding good.  Well I didn’t know any of the songs but I was headbanging from my vantage point in the weird side balcony beside the stage.

The Membranes band Leeds 3rd March 2016 The Wardrobe.
The Membranes.

I’ve never seen a warm-up act manage to win over an audience like that… stepping back from my role as a member of the crowd, and going into analytical mode, I was awestruck by the audience’s transformation – at the start, the audience was mostly indifferent, then about halfway through, they very quickly got into it and suddenly there was bouncing and cheering and participating and all that sort of thing.

The Membranes band Leeds 3rd March 2016 The Wardrobe.
The Membranes
The Membranes band Leeds 3rd March 2016 The Wardrobe.
The Membranes
The Membranes band Leeds 3rd March 2016 The Wardrobe.
The Membranes
The Membranes band Leeds 3rd March 2016 The Wardrobe.
The Membranes

Membranes John Robb

Membranes John Robb

My favourite part?  When the mouth organ came out.  I mean, I guess that must be what a mouth organ looks like – I’ve never seen one of those before.

the Membranes John Robb

The Membranes band Leeds 3rd March 2016 The Wardrobe.
The Membranes

So by the time the band finished, I was sad to see them leave.  Before Thursday, although I knew of the band, I didn’t know anything about their music (except that it was recommended by my stepdad who played drums in a punk band in ’77).  I’d only really come to see Therapy? (I hadn’t actually looked at who was supporting, more fool me), at that point when the Membranes stopped, I would have been quite happy if they were the main act or if they’d done a long set.  All in all they contributed to Thursday being a very memorable and outstanding gig out of the long list of gigs I’ve been to so far on my quest to fulfil my Bands Bucket List, despite not actually being on the list because I totally overlooked them when I was writing it.  Don’t make the same mistake I did – they’re not a band to overlook.

Supporting bands get a lot of shit, and sometimes they get too much credit when they shouldn’t have any (the Last Internationale who were supporting the Who really failed to engage me on every level, I couldn’t believe anyone had hired them as a band for such a big event – perhaps this went a long way towards explaining why my patience wore too thin and I ultimately walked out of the Who early and got an early night sleeping on the floor of Dublin airport).  It’s a tricky line to walk, to be a good supporting band, because it takes different skills than being a good main act.  A lot of people think that supporting acts need to be new inexperienced bands who do it for the exposure to new audiences.  Sometimes this works out ok, other times it bombs.  Not many supporting acts understand their role well enough to really run with it.  I think of all the bands I’ve ever seen in their supporting role (rather than their headline act), The Membranes sit up there alongside Anthrax and Alice Cooper as the three best bands you could hire to really get the crowd stoked (and I’d actually say slightly better than Anthrax).

And, as with Anthrax and Alice Cooper, I was left wanting to see, hear and know more about this band.  I particularly liked the part when John Robb said to the audience “ask me any physics question” (I know for a fact that there were at least two physics teachers in the audience).  So someone asked something like “what’s inside a black hole” and the whole audience went silent.  Everyone’s attention was focussed on John Robb.  Everyone was waiting, thinking “what’s he going to say?”  He had clearly thought about all this stuff a lot and knew what he was on about, and I thought his answer was pretty impressive, especially since it was a random question asked by a member of the audience.  I like randomness (all my Youtube videos end with “subscribe for more randomness”), and I like thinking about the nature of the universe.  So I thought that was an excellent lead-in to the next song.

If the universe is being destroyed and remade from one moment to the next, then I never actually saw them because the past no longer exists.  Which means I need to go and see them again.  But when I see them again, they will be different and so will I, because you can’t cross the same river twice.  Hmm…

At the end of the day, if you’re looking for a testosterone-fuelled shoutfest using three (established) chords, go and see Agnostic Front or someone similar.  There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that side of punk, except that everyone thinks it’s the *only* side to punk, which just isn’t true.  If you’re looking for a thought provoking, entertaining, wide variety of music that defies definition (and thus becomes what punk is supposed to be about), the Membranes are for you.  Or you could take the blue pill instead.

Find the rest of my music articles here.

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Download 2015: Day 2: Muse, Apocalyptica and Marilyn Manson

I awoke early to the sound of it raining inside the tent.  The water was dripping on my face.  I wrung everything out and carefully placed it all in the centre of the tent – the only place that wasn’t submerged.  My friend appeared and we held a conference.  We would sleep in her tent and try and move anything water-sensitive in there, because hers was considerably less wet than mine.
Download 2015 Review Day 1: Slipknot can be found here.

Apocalyptica.
Apocalyptica.  Sorry about the stupid date stamp on all the pix; I only found out about it when I got home.

We went to see Apocalyptica around lunchtime.  We got there just as they were starting and got a place reasonably towards the front, where we could see what was going on quite well.  They played their cellos, got to the end of their set, then said “well, we were only supposed to be on for half an hour but f**k it; we want to play another song” and they proceeded to do so.  It was awesome.  I think there were more than a few people in the crowd who didn’t know who they were, so it was nice to see people discovering awesome electric cello industrial music.  They also played our national anthem which was amusing because half the people in the crowd started singing (myself included) and half of them kind of mumbled and blustered like they were in a school assembly.   It was hilarious to think that we must be the only nation in the world where we don’t all know every word to our national anthem, but it doesn’t get taught in many schools and is distinctly lacking from the national curriculum – as a child, I didn’t know what the words were until I was about fourteen after reading an article that is sadly not findable on the internet, which basically showed that in a random survey of 500 people, something like 25% didn’t know what our national anthem was (it’s God Save The Queen, natch), and only 46% knew any of the words!  But Finnish band Apocalyptica can play it on the cello and it sounds awesome (like all their music does).  I was particularly interested to read that they started out as a Metallica tribute band, and later branched into their own music.    I was very impressed by how much music they managed to cram into their half hour slot whilst at the same time talking to the audience, not long conversations, but just enough little snippets so you knew what they were playing and that they had noticed a rather large crowd had gathered in front of their stage.

Apocalyptica playing download 2015
Apocalyptica.

Later in the day (I’ll spare you the day), we got back very late, and had a few minutes to find a spot so we could watch some of Marilyn Manson before we went to see Muse.  Unfortunately, my friend wanted food, so we went to get her some food instead of getting a good spot, and while we were waiting for the food to appear, Marilyn Manson started.  We stood at the top of the hill and watched from a distance, we got two songs in, Mobscene and Disposable Teens (both excellent tracks) but then I dragged us away to see Muse, because from our vantage point, I could hear the bass lines from Chris Wolstenholme’s bass guitar and they were calling to me, compelling me, dragging me away from the spectacle of Marilyn to observe the performance of the masters.

All I got from Marilyn Manson due to distance.
All I got from Marilyn Manson due to distance.

Muse were as technically accomplished as you would expect (probably the only way they could be more accomplished at playing music is if they hired Jimi Hendrix and Jimmy Page on second and third guitars), and I think a lot of the reason for their credible, un-astonishing but significant popularity is because of their ability to play their instruments.  Oh God, they can play their instruments.  And the time flew by as they played a nice selection of their songs (and they have so many to choose from).

I didn't get any good pictures of Muse playing because my camera couldn't focus past the lights.
I didn’t get any good pictures of Muse playing because my camera couldn’t focus past the lights.

However, I felt that both Marilyn Manson and Muse were distinctly lacking in the kind of showmanship and character that I’d been expecting.  Particularly Marilyn Manson, although I don’t know if his show got better after I left, so I can’t say as much about it.

This could be an album cover...
This could be an album cover…
Silver balls released over the crowd.
Silver balls released over the crowd.
Fireworks.
Fireworks.
Fireworks were part of Muse's performance
Fireworks were part of Muse’s performance
Streamers accompanied some pyrotechnics.
Streamers accompanied some pyrotechnics.

Muse had some incredible pyrotechnics and the giant silver balloons they released into the audience were really fun and cool, but they barely said hello, and didn’t really interact (apart from the perfunctory ‘I can identify which venue I’m playing’ greeting) and this created a distinct distance between performers and audience that directly contradicted the song lyrics for the setlist and made their lyrical persona feel hollow and pretentious.  I would hope it’s just the kind of stage fright that comes with playing for such a crowd.  Still, they put on a damn good show and they really can play their instruments, so I know I’m being over-analytical.

Marilyn Manson also felt hollow for the same reason – as the founder of the performance theory that states the artists’ existence is the performance, I expected more.  A grand entrance that never came.  A stage with some sort of a set.  Backing dancers.  I probably should keep all these notes to myself for if I ever play in my own band because I’ve learned so much about performance from watching all the great masters at work on my quest to fulfil my bands bucket list.

Day two ended after a spectacular firework display courtesy of Muse.  They are clearly trying to establish themselves as an “alternative rock” band (a la their Wikipedia page), and they certainly deserve to transcend Britpop (where they languished for most of the 2000s, as far as most people were concerned – Blur met the same fate in the ’90s, it was terribly sad), but I feel they need to shake off the performance nuances that make you seem awesome in a pop performance but in alternative rock, just don’t fly.  Alt fans want interaction, they want to know that the words of the songs have a wider meaning and significance.  They want to feel that you care about the fact that they’ve driven hundreds of miles, put up with awful weather, slept in puddles of water, not to mention spent a lot of money, just to see you.  And while I don’t think bands necessarily owe their fans anything, at the same time, it’s polite to acknowledge the people who are paying for you to do what you love full-time rather than put up that wall of idolatry.  It’s clearly a trade-off between talking too much (so you don’t get to play as many songs) and not talking enough, but they could definitely have stood to spend 60 more seconds chatting to the crowd, to tear down that barrier that they put up when they went into their musical trance and played their songs.  They had all the other elements of being the best band in the world ever, but the distance between performer and observer was profound, although I only think it was noticeable when compared to Lynyrd Skynyrd and The Who.  If I hadn’t gone to so many concerts recently I don’t think I would have seen it, I would have just been left with a feeling of isolation.

Apocalyptica, then, won the day for their stage presence, performance skills and musical talent, all of which they had in buckets, and for 2016, I would like to see Apocalyptica headlining or co-headlining at either Download, Sonisphere or Bloodstock, because they deserve a lot more accolade for their work and I do think they would draw the same size crowd as Slayer, Within Temptation or Slipknot; I hope the half-hour slot was due to scheduling conflicts rather than because the organizers didn’t know how awesome they were, and I for one would love to see them do a longer set.  I was just glad we didn’t miss Apocalyptica, because they really made my Saturday.

The first part of Download 2015 Day 3 can be found here.

See what’s on the rest of my Bands Bucket list
Other concerts I’ve reviewed.