The Membranes – The Magnet, Liverpool, 30th September 2016 – Live ReviewWritten by Sean Diamond
Come the eighties they’d singlehandedly invented the feedback drenched Hendrix/Punk crossover formula dragged kicking and screaming into the mainstream by the likes of Sonic Youth, My Bloody Valentine and The Jesus and Mary Chain, something they didn’t really receive credit for at the time thanks to various bouts of record company related misfortune, but which they have received considerably more plaudits for in recent times thanks to the patronage of musicians such as MBV’s Kevin Shields and Lambchop’s Kurt Wagner.
Frontman John Robb reformed the band in 2009 with a brand, spanking new line up, bringing the dust ‘n’ smoke drenched ragged glory of the original band to a whole new generation, even releasing a Mercury Music prize nominated album in the process (2015’s Dark Matter/Dark Energy). Part Henry Rollins, part John Peel, in between touring with The Membranes and his punk band Goldblade Robb has somehow found time to write a string of best-selling music books (including the definitive Stone Roses biography) and set up an award winning music site in the shape of Louder Than War (which your correspondent writes the odd piece for). At a John Robb gig literally anything can happen. Anything usually does.
Some sterling support came in the shape of SPQR, a young three piece from the Wirral (so I was told) who let rip with a truly audacious set of genre-splicing inventiveness that left me and several others open mouthed in shock by the finish. Shades of early Talking Heads, a splash of Wire, a pinch of Buddy Holly and The Crickets topped off with occasional lashings of Deep Purple, a sprinkling of Black Sabbath and a side order of The Ramones for good measure, whilst simultaneously sounding nothing like any of these artists, or any bands or artists before or since. Confused? You bet. Sublime stuff, will definitely be keeping an eye out for further gigs.
Here come The Membranes. Suffering from a ‘stinking cold’, refusing (as ever) to let the odds get the better of him, Brother John and his intergalactic cohorts have entered the stage, here to mess with the mind and mosh with the senses. Comprised mostly of songs from ‘Dark Matter’, undoubtedly their most cohesive album to date, it’s a dark, dank, spaced out set of mindwarping black magic and star laden solar skies, pure sci-fi in theme and strictly free jazz in execution, Robb’s illness only adding to the overall intensity of the performance.
Playing melodica like the ghost of Augustus Pablo one minute, throwing himself around the stage like a pineapple haired tin man the next, you could be forgiven for thinking that ‘unpredictable’ is an adjective solely invented to describe John Robb. Despite the ever present sense of danger, you know he’s on your side; posing for photos, shaking hands with the front row, his enthusiasm for music and love for life doesn’t escape you for a second. Old favourites are present in the swirling psychedelia of ‘Myths And Legends’ and a grand finale of ‘Spike Milligan’s Tape Recorder’, up there with ‘Ace of Spades’ in the 80s apocalypse rock stakes. Brutal, bewildering, far out, fantastic, The Membranes are in a galaxy of their own. Come survey the cosmik debris.
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