Public Image Ltd + The Selector + Erica Nockalls at the O2 Academy, Birmingham, UK – 20th October 2013Posted by Bianca on Sunday Oct 20, 2013 Under Experimental, Post-punk, Rock
Tonight’s gig is most definitely something old, something new, nothing borrowed, something blue. The shiny and new is Erica Nockalls, something old (as in historic) are Coventry’s 2Toners The Selector and the entirely relevant and slightly blue legendary John Lydon and his band of brothers – aka Public Image Ltd.
We arrive pretty early, before 7pm, and there’s already a queue. Security come out, doors open. Then doors close and security go back in. Okay – what be going on here? 7.15 the queue is growing and we’re still waiting. A quick chat with a security guy who’s ventured out and we discover that sound checks are still ongoing. Five minutes later the doors finally open and we queue to go in. Bizarrely paying punters with tickets in hand appear to be outnumbered by those on the guestlist – Nockalls (and her other half Miles Hunt) have been offering up guestlist places like there’s no tomorrow and The Selector too have a group of people in tow.
As we enter the main 02 Academy at 7.25pm, Erica Nockalls is on stage, akin in leather and pink tutu. “Thanks for having us….” The venue is pretty sparse and usually absolutely freezing cold, as she sets off her rock-punk set. I saw her at the Hare and Hounds recently – she is different and pretty good. Nockalls graduated from Birmingham Conservatoire after which, she’s spent the last eight years being the fiddly with The Wonder Stuff. And she’s worked with The Proclaimers and recently toured with Fink. “This is my own band – I’ve played on this stage a number of times… let’s see how much trouble I can get in on my own.” An appreciative Hunt is at the sound desk; his tousled head bopping up and down. Her debut album ‘Imminent Room’ is out now. In her own words “I hadn’t been able to find any good new music to listen to, so I thought I’d invent some of my own”. The sound check issues are showing, unfortunately the sound isn’t good, way too loud to get a true reflection of Nockalls’ ability.
The Academy is still pretty empty as on come the 2Tone ska band from Coventry – The Selector. Formed late 70s, they’d split by ’83 with singer Pauline Black leading a reformed version for 15 years from ’91. Confusion over differing versions of the band – a legal challenge ensued and Black’s official line up tonight now be the official version of The Selector. A big cheer comes from the audience and they start to bounce along to the self- titled ‘The Selector.’ The band are energetic and enjoyable; “get on the ‘Train to Skaville’” ‘James Bond’ all skaed up with their License to Kill. ‘On My Radio’ we all sing and bounce and the set finishes with ‘Too Much Pressure.’ It’ll be 35 years since The Selector started out next year – you can catch them on tour in 2014 and back at here at the Academy on March 13th.
Even though we had the earlier delay, the bands on stage timings are now back on track, though bizarrely, and I really don’t understand why, the crowd is pretty sparse. If you take away the long list of people who collared a guestlist entrance I suspect this gig was lucky not to be downgraded to the Academy2 – there must be between 500-800 people here. I didn’t expect a sold out gig – but I expected far more than this.
Formed in 1978, Lydon remains the only sole consistent member of PiL. Their musical sound covers a diverse experimental range of sounds; from screaming chants and bile ridden attacks of ‘Public Image’ and ‘This is Not a Love Song’ through the ‘rise’ of their 1986 release – classically and simply marketed as ‘Album’, ‘Cassette’ and ‘Compact Disc’ – mixed with the trademark Lydon sneer and haunting, rising melodies. In ’92, PiL were officially in hiatus, Lydon occasionally appearing with the reformed Sex Pistols, and in a brilliant turn on “I’m a Celebrity…..” a total polar opposite of what one would expect, but no parody – maybe two fingers to the reality TV genre, they clearly signed him because of his unpredictability. Far more astute than that, he walked, but we all knew he would have won, hands down. To quote a comment from the time on the PiL website “He also brings quality TV to the masses”. Too right. Lydon’s ability to do the polar opposite of what people would expect of him, took him to ‘Country Life Butter’ adverts and gave him the financial ability to go back to his true love; to reform and tour PiL in late 2009. Since then they’ve gone from strength to strength, playing the US and European festivals. In 2011, PiL were awarded the ‘Outstanding Contribution to Music’ at the Mojo Honours list. On 28th May 2012, on their own self funded label, PiL Official Ltd, they released their first studio album in 20 years – ‘This is PiL’ to critical acclaim. Track ‘Under the House’ featured in the Olympic 2012 Opening Ceremony and earlier this week Lydon received the prestigious BMI Icon Award for songwriters – recognising his work with the Sex Pistols and PiL and impact he’s had on social culture:
“It couldn’t be more appropriate and timely, really, considering the body of work I’ve just had to go through and endure to get my Public Image back up again, form our own label and be completely free and independent of the large corporations. This is very, very timely for me. And I think, you know, what took you so long? [laughter]” – John Lydon, BMI Q&A
For Lydon PiL is serious. It’s about their music. Delivered immaculately. This is not about John Lydon misbehaving, spitting venom and winding the crowd up. Bang on 9pm, the venue is darkened and a single light shines of the PiL logo fixed to netting at the back of the stage. Lydon greets us with ‘Good evening….’ and we’re off. ‘Deeper Water’ is off the new album – this is a song that rolls and licks with Lydon’s vocals as he yowls and purrs. No words between songs and we’re into ‘Albatross.’
“ ‘ello Brum. Are you ready?” The crowd heckle; it’s part of the crack at any PiL gig and we’re into ‘This is Not a Love Song’, still snarly and irreverent, but all funked up. “Are you there? Are you ready?’” comes the snarl. The technical sound difficulties continue, the band still play on; Lydon “I can hear f**k all… just f**king disortion…” It’s not getting sorted. “Carry on playing…” and the band duly do. “I’m getting a real problem here…” To the crowd: “Now it’ not Johnny throwing a diva…. I aint got no tits….” and slowly, from his side the sound is rectified but not to the audience. The balance is out, Lydon sounds like he’s singing in an enormous tin can – it’s difficult to hear the rhythms within the songs.
“This is what you want…. This is what you get…. This is what you want… this is what you get….” Lydon chants leading into ‘The Body.’ To crowd applause and wolf whistles. “And the crowd went wild…” he quips. The mighty ‘Warrior’ rolls on next – many of the songs are longer editions they are not just three minute; at least 10 each.
A break between songs, as Lydon speaks to the drummer – the crowd start chanting “You fat bas***d…” A classic Lydon retort; “Where’s your f***ing manners? – Can’t you see we’re having a chat…” and we get ‘Death Disco’. The set is completed by new track ‘One Drop’ and Lydon plays to the crowd as they exit stage right.
Back on “You all be tired… you must have run the marathon. Who won? I was there in mind, spirit and complete f***ing drunken laziness…” And we get the in your face ‘Public Image’ which receives a huge cheer before the class act that is ‘Rise’. The sound by now is excruciatingly loud and distorted. “It’s good when they put the lights on you… my god you’re ugly… but not as ugly as me…” Then get down and dance as we get PiL doing the Lydon/Leftfield dance/ trance classic ‘Open Up…’
“Thank you Birmingham – for putting up with us…” Lydon is totally and completely sincere in his comment.
I’ve seen PiL before. They are indeed a stunning and awesome sight. Unfortunately tonight, the venue that let them down, the sound balance was mostly terrible. A great show, but we didn’t hear PiL in their true glorious colours.
Lydon has been accused of becoming almost becoming a cartoon character of his punk and eccentric image. But what he is, is far more. More than just a national treasure, he provides a masterclass in longevity, charisma and that chameleon approach to being open to create and vocalise, logic and create music in a truly different and unique approach. Fiercely articulate and intelligent, he is far more than just the obnoxious lead singer of a punk band that may have changed the world thirty odd years ago – PiL over the years have created a series of foot stomping classics, utilizing rock, dance, folk, ballet, pop and dub.
Lydon was key to changing the world of music. He truly deserves all the accolades chucked at him and you know really, he’s rather chuffed, regardless of his irreverent demeanor. He helped to give a multitude of musicians the opportunity to create music for the masses that just wouldn’t have been thought possible to achieve. PiL are entirely a class act – and for all who have been inspired by the opportunity to create alternative music, then surely the opportunity to see one of the most eclectic and revolutionary artists of recent times, on form, is a must. PiL will be back – hopefully at a venue that will do them for better justice. Get the opportunity, a must go and see.
1. Deeper Water
2 . Albatross
3. This is Not A Love Song
4. Pop Tones
[This is what you want]
6. The Body
[This is what you want]
8. Reggie Song
9. Death Disco
10. Out of the Woods
11. One Drop
12. Public Image
14. Open Up
[PiL setlist pic courtesy of Gibby – cheers!]
Lydon’s response to which of his recordings to listen to:
“I would recommend you see us live and hear what this is truly about, and from there on in you can make your own decisions. For me it’s always been about live performance. That’s the be-all and end-all of it really. That’s the ultimate release.” John Lydon, BMI Q&A