Sunday, December 27, 2009

Live review: Public Image Limited

Filled with more filthy lucre from advertising butter, John Lydon has joined the growing bands of revivalists doing a potted Best Of on the live circuit, with a late 80s incarnation of Public Image Limited that includes ex-Damned Mekon guitarist Lu Edmonds, drummer Bruce Smith from the Pop Group and Scott Firth on bass. This was the first of two nights at Camden’s Electric Ballroom, after dates in Brixton, Birmingham and elsewhere, and as Lydon strolls on last in oversized check-shirt and trousers he tells us he’s ‘the local boy made good’. Just a 253 up to his old manor.

Hardly the ‘humiliating reconciliation’ with English culture, with Lydon installed as the ‘official court jester, the vaudeville act touring the revival circuit’ as David Keenan put in his Wire review of their reissues, nor the grim spectacle of the Pistols comeback gigs in outdoor arenas, rather Lydon seemed determined to prove the worth of their back catalogue and the relevance now, not just musically but also lyrically as Britain stays mired in recession, seemingly unwilling to find the means to lift itself out of its malaise. After opening with Public Image itself, the next five or six songs contained many of the biggies - Careering, Poptones, This Is Not a Love Song - all of whose renditions delighted the crowd. Driven by crunchy dark synths, there is another tune slightly later on (I’m only familiar with bits of Metal Box and the bigger mid-80s hits) that absolute nails the punk-funk thing and makes you understand why this kind of dark dub disco can carry real weight. Lydon pounces around the stage grimacing and jerking, feeling the music and its intent but never losing himself. You can be locked into in the music but that doesn’t mean you’re some loved up ravegimp vacuous of thought. Death Disco repeats the trick a bit later on. Slower and even moodier tracks such as Albatross, Religion and the exotic Flowers of Romance all work well, while Lydon is also at pains to convey the full intent of Warrior, the perpetual and dangerous undermining of England’s multicultural reality. Politicians also come in for regular abuse. Over to Dan for more:

"Firth’s basslines were irresistible and even Lu Edmonds’ occasional excesses on his set of axes failed to reduce or narrow the intense grooves ploughed by these postulate, essential punks. Lydon was in his element, proto-preaching and coruscating banality and compliance - anarchy can be easy (it is, after all, extremely reactionary) but it is a much healthier attitude in an artist/musician than, say, liberal democratic values worn on bespoke tailored sleeves. After opening with a somewhat perfunctory performance of the eponymous debut single, a dip into the viral waters of Careering signalled that we were in for some of the good old early stuff. Lydon's pained apoplexy, spat out through the characteristically maniacal visage, was a vital antidote to the butter commercials and he even afforded himself a laugh at a pat of said product that an audience member had thoughtfully provided [something along the lines of ‘you’re among friends here, so don’t take the piss you fat cunt’]."

Lydon left the stage with the assertion that we should ‘accept no imitators just the best’, but in truth the focus could not be kept up for the entire set of near two hours including encores. Edmonds’ 80s guitar hero took those scratchy 80s licks nearer to the Edge and sometimes Lydon’s banter with the front degenerated (when we weren’t folky enough for one encore) and the crowd itself lost some concentration. Perhaps making this more a bit more of an event with the DJs on for longer and maybe a youthful support band that shared some of their outlook but updated the look might have justified the £40+ ticket. But generally this was a really tight and inspired set by the PiL whose line-up, emboldened only by occasional drum tracks and some electronic instrumentation, really did justice to both the early and more well known later periods of Lydon’s far less rotten adventure.
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