GIG REVIEW: Membranes and Friends @ O2 Ritz

Not even the warmest day of the year so far can deter the hardy, black-clad horde of mature post-punkers from descending on the Ritz for this blistering all-dayer held by legendary Mancunian punk rockers. Billed as Membranes & Friends, there’s a virtually guaranteed swathe of talent on display, going off the band’s own esoteric influences, as well as the sense of musical community fostered by frontman John Robb, cultural commentator and Louder Than War founder.

Punk’s Best and Brightest From All Across the Spectrum.

Perfectly willing to work up more of a sweat beyond that of the heat, the most intrepid gig-goers are treated to the 4.25 kick-off of upstart Norwich duo Sink Ya Teeth, who in a dual bass-and-drum-sampler setup deliver ominously throbbing beats and sparse, hypnotic disco with a sultry confidence, in a pleasingly palatable opener for the night of crashing noise to follow. Following this is the jerky post-punk of LIINES, emerging figures of the local indie and alternative scene – frontwoman Zoe McVeigh at one point excitedly reminisces of her younger nights spent in the very same venue – who burst into action with a fiery passion. The group have their fair share of followers in tonight, and they no doubt meet their expectations with relentlessly driving, robotic rhythms and disaffected, claustrophobic wails.

Next, One Sided Horse take the stage to relatively minimal pre-existing awareness, switching gears to a dark, heaving folk rock. Helmed by Evil Blizzard member Mark Whiteside, this more thoughtful side to his experimental sludge antics showcases energetic, stomping rhythms and swirling textures alongside plaintive vocal melodies and a hard-edged, gothic grit; onstage, he explains his band comprises members of indie icons Embrace, which goes a way to explain their humbly commanding onstage presence.

Next up are surreal, recently-reformed punk heroes The Cravats create an even more enigmatic scene before even playing any music, with The Shend (vocals) cutting an imposing bowler-hatted figure, as well as a man onstage whose job seems to be to sit and read the paper while eating a banana. After some brief ‘saxophone issues’, the band work a dissonant grumbling into thumping, disjointed rhythms and blood-pumping garage-punk, glowering over their enraptured audience while repeating absurdist mantras in a funhouse vocal style.

In arguably the most bizarre spectacle of the evening, 4-bass lunatics Evil Blizzard shuffle onto the stage all pig masks and blood-stained surgical garb, and are greeted by a wave of flicked up V-signs in what I can only assume is some in-joke, as the crowd seems genuinely captivated – and with good reason. Parcelling out deeply-burrowing sludge beats into a stomping drone and a deathrock jig, the intense low-end layering pushes through any ridiculousness to a crushing effect, earning the right to their maniacal onstage strutting and sardonic banter.

After hardly any time at all, The Lovely Eggs explode into life with their deliciously thick dual drums-and-guitar attack, clearly giddy at the prospect of playing (as well as having a night off – “Mum’s babysitting tonight,” guitarist and vocalist Holly Ross wryly informs the crowd). The songs’ sunny melodies, relatively simple arrangements and unrestrained psych freakouts nudge the audience into their favour, with a number singing along joyously – the reviewer included.

The Membranes.

Lastly, however, it’s the irrepressible Membranes who dole out the most severe, yet crowd-pleasing sonic punishment; world-ending noise metal riffs form a menacing swagger and glorious space-rock crescendos, matched by the otherworldly BIMM Choir, whose artistic contributions of a rich, ominous chanting help create an apocalyptic, room-filling cacophony. Robb’s demented, commanding rasp complements his wild-eyed demeanour, while keeping any shapeless noise anchored by gravelly bass-lines. It’s a fundamentally engaging performance – the choir adds a sonorous new dimension, turning the sepia-toned lilt of older track Myths and Legends into something more upbeat and accessible – and serves as a fitting capper for a night of such wide-ranging musical ingenuity.

Membranes have come a long way since immigrating from Blackpool to Manchester in the 80’s to release Crack House on the legendary record label criminal damage. What membranes present today is something rare, a matured punk rock that has aged gracefully. Something that icons like John Lyndon, Darby Crash even Henry Rollins to an extent, could not deliver. From lighting fires outside of HMV to the esoteric, metallic activism infused product they’re delivering today with the assistance of a choir.


Patrick Preston