No Wobble, no Levene, no Walker or Atkins and definitely no Jeanette Lee. Public Image Ltd in 2011 is a very different proposition, but neither is there any of the Lydon revisionism we’ve had to get used ever since the Pistols got back together all those years ago. Instead there’s a faithfulness to the original songs, particularly the older ones. A reverence, even. Their power has not dulled in the intervening 30 years. Not for Lydon at least, if his acerbic, almost acrobatic, rendition of ‘Religion ii’ is anything to go by, not for the audience either, if their frantic tumbling is representative.
The band he has assembled to be this incarnation of PiL straddle the spectrum of the work more than ably. Lu Edmonds, who toured with PiL briefly in the ’80s and has now all manner of stringed instruments with which to make noise, has the visceral, anti-guitar sound of early Levene and all the virtuosity of a Vai or McGough. Old hand Bruce Smith and new hands Scott Firth add the muscle, and the thrum, and the grooves with aplomb. For a while it seems as if it’s hits out for the lads, as Lydon tries to represent every dark corner of the PiL catalogue. Later albums are showcased through the singles, ‘This is Not a Love Song’, ‘Acid Drop’, ‘Warrior’, the far-better-than-remembered ‘Disappointed’, the somewhat flat ‘Rise’, (and, for good measure, ‘Open Up’, Lydon’s collaboration with Leftfield, which isn’t strictly speaking a PiL song, but is some number to close with) but it’s in the early work that they excel. From the opening rumble of ‘Public Image’, through the murder ballad, ‘Poptones’, ‘ChantMemories’, the afore mentioned ‘Religion ii’, (which sounds far better than the recorded version ever did, dissolving into a bass heavy, soul cleanising groove) and highlight ‘Swan Lake (Death Disco)’, delivered with the same cathartic verve you could imagine Lydon giving it in 1980, the later work seems to pale by comparison to their potency.
All through the gig Lydon gives it his all, master of his craft, that craft being his voice. He has always surrounded himself with musicians, either of the highest calibre or players with the wiggiest ideas, but it’s clear that in the flesh PiL is more than the sum of it’s various parts, that the music can survive. Initial misgiving that the soul of band may be missing when they attempt to reign in the power of early PiL are utterly unfounded. PiL IS Lydon, and he lets us know that he owns all of these numbers, and that frankly, he owns the audience too.
But what of punk rock? Well, the flickering sea of tiny blue screens that was a hundred camera phones experiencing the gig for their owners disappears quicksmart once the beer throwing commences. However, it’s not cheap beer. Six euro for a facile, punk statement? That’s not punk; punk was NEVER about wasting alcohol. Neither, you feel, is the middle-aged man being shunted out of the door by bouncers half his age, a half apologetic grimace on their faces, as if it were their own da they were turfing out. But Lydon, he still spits. Sure, it’s into a strategically placed onstage spittoon rather than the face of a hippie or a conformist or Nick Kent, and his plume of rheum is expensive brandy rather than anger-masticated gob, but there he is on stage, swigging Martel as the crowd attempt bad pogos and someone crowdsurfs face first into the floor. Ignoring the occasional missile that lands on the stage and being, ultimately, the consummate professional somehow, that cool, knowing detachment of the man, with his statuesque peroxide hair and air of satisfaction is, of course, the most punk rock thing in the room.
This IS what we wanted, and this is what we got. A legend delivers.
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