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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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):
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
So I keep referring to my bands bucket list when I write about things I’ve been up to. Today I wanted to go back and explain what it is.
You are probably aware that a bucket list is usually something written by people of all ages to ensure that they get to do all the things they’ve dreamed of doing in life – all the things they want to do before they “kick the bucket,” to coin a term.
In my case, that would be my ever-dwindling 30-list and my currently being written 40-list, which are the things I want to do before I reach age 30 and age 40, respectively. It would probably not surprise you, then, to know that, when I was eighteen, I started this whole thing by writing a 20-list, a set of things I wanted to do before I turned 20.
The Bands Bucket List is very separate. My age-lists are really more a set of things I feel would be achievements, accomplishments, or that I have some control over. Things you can get with work and dedication. They are lists of things that are within my power to make happen, however unique the circumstances would need to be for the achievement to be made.
The reason I don’t include bands on my 30-list and 40-list is because anyone can buy a ticket and travel to a gig. Yes, some bands only tour in their homeland of Japan or The Faroe Islands, but by and large, live music is a capitalist, class dependent commodity (ooh er) that anyone with time and money can engage in. For that reason I don’t think it’s an achievement to see The Who or Lynyrd Skynyrd, in the same sense that it would be an achievement to climb a mountain or get a master’s degree. It would certainly be an achievement to play in a band, an honour that I have never been privy to (flutes tend to get stuck with orchestras rather than popular music bands, and ukuleles are the sonorous pariah unwanted in most ensembles), but seeing a band? I am responsible for quality control of my lists and I decided it would cheapen the accomplishment of a PhD or climbing Everest to liken them with going to Download Festival (sorry, Download, it’s not that I don’t think your wonderful, but you are very easy).
I did need to keep track of a large set of data though, to make it possible to organize, and as I was spending more and more time on the internet typing different band names into Google, I thought I needed a spreadsheet. I do love a good spreadsheet.
So I wrote them all down in alphabetical order, every band I could think of who, if their members died in a plane crash and they ceased to exist, I would feel like I’d missed out if I had neglected to attend them. I know I won’t see all of them, but I wanted to make a concerted effort to see as many as I could while I could.
The list doesn’t distinguish between bands who have been apart for 30 years and those who are still coherent, it does separate out individual artists who are known to currently have a solo career and also link them to the band they used to be in (so, for example, the entry for David Gilmour states “Dave Gilmour/Pink Floyd” and Roger Waters’ entry is “Roger Waters/Pink Floyd”) ensuring that the musical genius that spawned the bands are placed to be seen even when they can’t be in the same room as one another. Jimmy Page and Robert Plant are another example, where their entries are “Jimmy Page/Led Zeppelin” and “Robert Plant/Led Zeppelin” respectively. Either entry can be ticked off once the required people have been seen, so if I’d seen Jimmy Page, it would then be at my discretion whether I decided the performance was sufficient to tick off Led Zeppelin, or whether I also wanted to see Robert Plant first. I have ticked Guns n Roses off because I’ve seen Slash, and his performance with Myles Kennedy would be sufficient to tick off Guns n Roses (although GnR weren’t on my list) even though I haven’t seen Axl Rose and the band he’s put together when he kept the name Guns N Roses.
This list, and the ticking off part especially, has raised two very interesting dilemmas facing the modern music fan of older bands: To what extent does the name of the band matter if none of the original members survive, and what actually counts as having seen a band?
The naming question is difficult. So for example, there’s only one founder member of Lynyrd Skynyrd left in the band, but when I went to see them you could tell straight away that it didn’t matter. Trying to define a band as who they were when they first signed on the dotted line of that fateful first record deal in the 1960s is a constrained and counterproductive way of going about things. Take Pink Floyd again – guitarist Dave Gilmour wasn’t even in the original line-up, but for many people, he IS Pink Floyd, moreso than any other member. Likewise, I need to be cautious about letting too many things be defined as the correct band. It gets to a point where the only member of a band worth seeing is the drummer, and unless it’s Ringo Starr or Keith Moon, you might as well go and see a tribute band and tick off the real thing. It’s false. So somewhere between these two polarized opinions lies the way forward.
With The Who it was easy – the lead singer/guitarist and the lead guitarist are both still knocking around, the drummer is Ringo Starr’s son, and the bassist is an excellent session musician. Hearing them play, you can tell they’re the real deal not some tribute band which have learned their songs meticulously to the letter and never deviate from the script. They had the spark of Who-ness that made them Who-lesome. I make no apologies for the wordplay. Not all wordplay is a pun.
With Guns N Roses it would have been harder, since Axl kept the band name but is the only remaining member. Seeing Slash play was such a jaw-droppingly stirring experience that I decided there was no way any replacement guitarist could ever possibly outdo him, unless Axl had hired Hendrix or Jimmy Page (which he hasn’t, which is a good job because Hendrix is dead and in either case, they’d want to play like themselves so you’d not get the same result). It’s all a matter of style and substance. Tribute bands and lesser replacement musicians can copy the style but have no substance. Replacement musicians who are greater than the original will have substance but a differing style. It takes a rare genius to walk the line between these two and still come out on top. So I ticked off Guns N Roses.
The second dilemma is also one that I could spend years obsessing over if I wanted to: How much of a band counts as “having seen” a band. Here are my criteria:
1. It has to be live.
2. I had to be close enough to see and hear the band, not just watch the video screen, because that defeats the point.
3. I have to have heard the actual band play at least one full song.
4. Televised appearances are lovely, but there is so much loss of quality and atmosphere that they can’t possibly count, and the same goes for Youtube and other ways of seeing them. For example, I watched the Pink Floyd Live 8 performance live on the BBC as it happened less than 20 miles from where I was sat (2 days after my mother had tried to kill me resulting in my being removed and never returning home, and 5 days before the 7/7 bombings), but it doesn’t count as having seen them, even though it had a profound and evelasting impact on the course of my life after that moment and probably stopped me killing myself. That bit where they played “Wish You Were Here” and dedicated it to Syd had me in tears.
5. It doesn’t matter what they play: If I wanted to hear a specific song I could buy and listen to the proper recording studio version. That’s not what I’m looking for in my quest to see these bands.
Then there’s the single criterion for removal from the list: If there are no living members of a band or if a solo artist dies, they are taken off the list. Here is the list so far, there are currently 60 entries, and things are always being added:
For planning purposes, only the bands in white/orange matter: The ones in pale grey are supposed to be ones who are just not touring at all, so they’re discounted from planning purposes (but breakups/reunions etc are so fickle that I don’t exclude reunion tours until the last member has kicked the bucket). The ones in dark grey are ones I’ve now seen. The ones in lime green are currently not attainable due to either dates, cost, or some other factor of sheer preposterous awkwardness that makes them unachievable such as announcing on the day of sale, selling out in 10 minutes and placing ridiculous resale criteria on the tickets, that only means that WHEN the tickets are resold, they’re triple the price they would have been so the resellers make even more money. The ones in lime green are generally ones I’ve written off for this year.
So that’s my bands bucket list. What do you think? Who would be on yours?
Longtime readers will have realized I never ever miss a Travel Tuesday post. Yesterday, I decided that rather than pre-scheduling, I wanted to talk about the trip I was actually going to be on when I was due to post (if you see what I mean). At 3am yesterday morning, I got back out of bed to go to Dublin to see The Who. I just got back at 11am when I started writing this post (yeah I got interrupted by something VERY important to do with our house’s roof). Tired now. I packed some other stuff into my 24 hours in Dublin, I’ll do a separate article each on Dublin and Newgrange in future posts.
Anyway, I digressed, so I’ve cut my digression into a separate article, and I haven’t had much sleep due to sleeping last night for about an hour, all on the cold stone floor of an airport, so I will keep rambling I’m afraid.
The Who concert didn’t start well for me: When you’ve flown abroad and spent time hiring a car, the absolute last thing you want to hear is “your tickets been declined” at three different doors. I did eventually get in to find out I was seated next to the lighting rig. In case you’re wondering, that’s a terrible place to sit because the sound quality is as shit as a tyrannosaurus with dysentery.
It’s a shame because I was actually closer to the front (at the back of this venue) than I was to Marilyn Manson 2 weeks ago at Download, and I could see and hear a lot better at Download because they’ve got sound engineers who know how sound waves travel, and know they need to angle the goddamn speakers to point at the crowd, not aim it all at somewhere in the middle. The high notes were painfully shrill and the bass was non-existent. I fashioned myself some earplugs out of toilet paper so I could overcome the distortion as best as possible in order to actually enjoy the gig.
At the beginning there was a slideshow of The Who pictures and trivia. I wrote some of the more interesting things down to share with you, because I can’t not take notes when someone puts words on a PowerPoint and plays it to me:
Apparently the proper name for their “target” motif is a “roundel” which is symbolic of Mod culture (I knew I didn’t like it for some reason, presumably because I inherited a dislike of scooters *cough*hairdryers*cough* in favour of real motorbikes – but then, I always thought the mod vs rocker thing was a bit of a non starter because they all dropped off the face of the earth when the hippie movement turned up and I think it was probably a lot of the same people wearing a different badge – psychedelia instead of “mod” or “rocker” but no-one seems to really know).
The drummer who’s been touring with The Who since 1996 is Ringo Starr’s son – Zak Starkey. Having seen him in action I can say he is an excellent drummer. There’s something that separates a good drummer from an outstanding drummer, and whatever it is, Zak Starkey has got it. I guess when your “Uncle Keith” (Keith Moon) buys you your first drum kit, you’re going to probably be inspired to become a great drummer. He has more than earned his unofficial membership as an honorary member of The Who. What’s bizarre is the photo above shows a figure with black hair and white face standing behind him, and I just looked for a picture of Keith Moon and he looked like this on Wikipedia:
I don’t know who replaced Moon from 1978 (when he died) to 1996, but John Entwhistle was replaced straight away when he died in 2002 by Pino Palladino. I found out by experience that he can pull out a canny bass solo when he feels like it.
I often feel like replacement members in a band as legendary as The Who have to be twice as good as the originals they replace. Taking Pink Floyd as a comparable example, Syd Barrett was replaced by Dave Gilmour, who is responsible for the characteristic sound of Pink Floyd as they were when they made it really really big. In fact, Gilmour was so good that his membership overshadowed Syd’s, and tragically, Syd was not welcomed back when his manager tried to arrange a “surprise reunion” at the recording of Wish You Were Here. Another example is Myles Kennedy, currently touring with Slash (of Guns N Roses) and I would say that their rendition of Anastasia (which gives me chills) must make Axl Rose green with envy that he missed out on being part of such a fantastic piece of music, not only that but Myles can cover all the old Guns N Roses stuff and you wouldn’t know it wasn’t Axl singing. I was very impressed by that. And I was very impressed last night in The Who Hits 50 in Dublin by Pino and Zak; certainly they are very, very good players and they are by no means a lesser substitute for John (E) or Keith. You’re not getting second best, you’re getting first best from people whose life path brought them here from a different place.
Apparently Keith Moon used Premier Drums. In 1967 they gave him a Pictures of Lily version (the famous Day Glow Victorian pictures of a similar style to the Monty Python’s Flying Circus animations). Keith Moon used this drum kit for 2 years, calling it something like (and I’m sorry if this is slightly wrong, the slide disappeared as I was scribbling it) “Keith Moon Patent Exploding Drummer Kit.”
The guitar smashing was apparently inspired by one Malcolm Cecil, a teacher at Ealing Tech, who did a performance where he sawed through his cello, inspiring Pete Townshend to think about the deeper artistic statement of it (yeah folks were all doing a lot of weird stuff back then). Pete smashed his guitars with the stated purpose of making an art statement about value and cost, as well as proving that there would be no encores after the guitar was wrecked. Apparently, because it’s become too commonplace and too many artists do it, he doesn’t smash guitars as a spectacle. Since 2000, 4 guitars have been smashed total – one in 2000, two in 2002 and one in 2004, although these were apparently because he was displeased with the performance of the instrument and wanted “to prevent a bad guitar from returning.”
The Union Jack jacket was inspired by Pop Art (the art movement) and David Bowie was inspired to get one for his 1997 Earthlings album as a throwback to The Who (also that year, Geri Halliwell made headlines when she wore to the Brit Awards a Union Flag dress which was very very short, but this wasn’t mentioned in The Who Turns 50’s slideshow, presumably because it’s less cool to inspire the Spice Girls than to inspire David Bowie, who was after all a contemporary of The Who).
Apparently The Who played at Woodstock. They didn’t like it because they had to leave the van miles away and one of them was carrying a tiny baby at the time.
The supporting band:
The supporting band were called The Last Internationale. The lead singer had a powerful voice but she was shrill despite not being high pitched, which was a distinct disadvantage. This was when I made earplugs because my ears were in pain and I guess it serves me right for going to a The Who concert with a migraine.
I wasn’t very impressed with them because they seemed to have no idea what to do with a crowd that big, and I think the best way they could have warmed the crowd up would be to leave. They failed to win me over, and I’m not sure that what they were playing classes as music, but they at least started to get my attention, from about their 3rd or 4th song, which was called something like “Wanted Now” and by their finale they were successfully demonstrating that it was possible to play and jump around at the same time, which seemed to be their party trick. Apparently they’ve just released their first single in the US so you’ll probably hear about them s’more soon unless they bomb on the charts. Not sure Wal-Mart will add them to the playlist though since they tend to avoid rock-y sounds, but you never know.
A very long wait during changeover while the stage is re-set:
I don’t want a sausage inna bun.
I don’t want a sausage inna bun.
I don’t want a sausage inna bun.
I should have had a second lunch before the show.
I don’t want a sausage inna bun.
Or a programme.
Yes, it will be a collector’s item in 20 years’ time but will the increase in value justify the space I’d need to keep it in my house just for that reason? Nope. Imagine if I did that with every potentially valuable item, I’d end up keeping millions of things just for the sake of selling them again at some point in the future. It’s hoarding, and it’s the complete opposite of minimalism.
Maybe I should distract myself with a sausage inna bun?
NO! I don’t want a sausage inna bun!
The trouble is, the snacks available are either full of sugar (eg skittles) or they are hot dogs. Which are also very bad for me as I cannot tolerate pork at all and I’d probably get more nutritional value from eating the programme than the sausage inna bun.
Half to two thirds of the attendees didn’t turn up until 5 minutes before The Who started – I think about 50 people in consecutive seats all arrived at once, presumably a late coach, but the others just seemed to have it sussed to avoid all the waiting. They’ve clearly been before. There was so very much waiting.
Here’s as much of the setlist as I managed to write down:
Song 1 and 2: ???
Song 3: Who are you?
Song 4: The Kids Are Alright [sic]
Song 5: I can see for miles.
Song 6: My generation. Which had a verse which was a drum-underscored bass solo. Excellent.
Song 7: Behind Blue Eyes.
Song 8: Bargain.
Song 9: I wasn’t sure at the time, thought it was “join the river” which was really confusing but it’s actually “join together.” I’d never heard it before.
Song 10: You’d Better You Bet.
Song 11: I’m one.
Song 12: Love Reign O’Er Me
Song 13: Eminence Front
Song 14: A quick one (while he’s away).
The heat was problematic, and the temperature control was non-existent. I was sat by the lighting rig. Lights get HOT at concerts. But I wasn’t the only one suffering. The band paused after a song to try and get someone to do something about the temperature. They weren’t precious about it though, and even made a bit of a song out of it while they waited for someone to put a fan on, the Air Con, or get them some water because it was far too hot.
Sadly, at this point in the concert, I was overcome with heat and listened to the next two from the doorway. I think if it’d been brought back with something I had wanted to hear after A Quick One (while he’s away) I would have stuck around, but the last one I’d actually heard before (and I’m not an ignoramus I just don’t know their whole back catalogue) was #8, and number 15 was nothing I recognized so I decided we must be nearly finished, and that I would just go back to the car hire place and return the car. When I looked up what I’d missed, I found that only two (Pinball Wizard and Baba O’Riley) of the five remaining songs were ones I’d wanted to hear. I know it’s good for a band to play what THEY want not just what fans want, but when you’ve got such a fabulous back catalogue I don’t know why you would pick below average pop-tastic songs unless they just can’t play the others any more or hate them so much that they can’t stand them. Who knows.
See what I did there.
I did it again there. Instead of a question mark, the full stop makes it a statement which answers the question which would be posed if there was a question mark.
Anyway, I enjoyed what I saw of The Who, despite the heat and stress of the two people in front of me being coked up twats and very tall and talking nineteen to the dozen with grand gestures and snogging (like, the gross kind that 15 year olds do to show everyone in the vicinity that they’re going out, not the passionate kind of snog that people in love do) and stretching whilst talking and snogging and basically doing as much as they could to ruin my view and then trying to feel me up (I shit you not), and despite the fact the sound quality was awful in that part of the 3 Arena, it was still a very good show. I was struck by how much interaction The Who had with the audience – literally, after every song they would talk for a bit and tell you a bit about the background to the next one. It was fascinating. I made brief notes because I didn’t want note-taking to get in the way of enjoying the show. But they didn’t short-change on the songs, either, and they played plenty (although theirs tend to be shorter than most other bands I listen to, because they were always more poppy when they were making big hits).
Afterwards I balked at how much parking had cost – my ticket came up as E30 when it should have been E12 for event parking, but I had to get the car out of the car park because it was a hire car so I just paid.
So lots of things conspiring to put a downer on the day, and I wasn’t necessarily in the right place to be as caught up in the hype as I would have been if I hadn’t needed to manage a migraine, but even though I left early I was happy with what I’d seen, felt it just about justified the effort and more than justified the expenditure (which was STILL cheaper and more convenient than going to London) and think I can definitely tick them off my Bands Bucket List. I should post that list at some point in its entirety.
More on Ireland, specifically Dublin and Newgrange, soon…
What do you think of those weird psychedelic photos? I was going to delete them until I saw that some of them looked very artistic, now I’m intrigued by the possibility of interference from the spiritual realm. Glad I bought a silver Virgin Mary medallion (it’s an Irish thing) earlier that afternoon!