Public Image Ltd

So, John Lydon and Public Image Ltd are back on the road again after a long break. And it’s good to see that this is not a nostalgia band, but a talented new line up with a ground-breaking new album to promote.

Public Image Ltd

For many the definitive line up of PiL will always be Lydon, with guitarist Keith Levene and bass player Jah Wobble. Together they created PiL’s acclaimed early material, including 1979’s ‘Metal Box’ album. However, on the strength of the new album, ‘This is PiL’, and recent live performances, this is a new definitive line up. New guitarist Lu Edmunds and bassist Bruce Smith have played with PiL before, and have now been joined by drummer Scott Firth. What is good is that they are clearly not just Lydon’s backing band, but are a fully functioning outfit helping Lydon develop his musical ideas.

Public Image Ltd

There is no support band at the Wulfrun Hall tonight and there is a long wait from the doors opening until PiL finally come on. Lydon is in good humour and spirits and seems to be enjoying himself. Tonight’s gig shows he has plenty of stamina and, what’s more, his voice is as powerful as ever and it sustains well through the two hour set.

Public Image Ltd

The set consists of many old favourites from the back catalogue (though notably PiL’s well-know debut single ‘Public Image’ is absent) and also a fair chunk of material from the new album. Opener is the well-known ‘(This is Not) a Love Song’, followed by ‘Deeper Water’ from the new album. ‘Deeper Water’ has a catchy melody and, like much of the new material, seems more accessible to a wider audience than much of the back catalogue. However, other new songs, like ‘Lollipop Opera’, demonstrate that PiL are still very quirky and experimental.

Public Image Ltd

As if to emphasise the contrast with the older songs, we are then treated to the more stark ‘Albatross’. “We are not ******* Florence and the Machine”, Lydon informs the audience! Agreed – middle of the road, PiL are not. Furthermore, there is no band that sounds anything like them. However, the bleakest moments of the evening are occupied by the song ‘Religion’ – “lock up your children, the priests are coming”, declares Lydon. The song is delivered with a chillingly scary vocal.

Public Image Ltd

Apart from Lydon, the most colourful and distinctive member of the band is Lu Edmunds. During ‘Religion’ he comes to the front of the stage extracting discordant sounds from his guitar with, what appears to be, a revolving illuminated wheel. Through the evening he prowls behind Lydon with a variety of ‘guitar-type’ instruments, including what appears to be a sort of hybrid bouzouki and something that looks like a fat banjo (which at one point he plays with a bow). Edmunds, with his Christ-like long hair and beard, charmingly looks very much like an old hippy – so maybe Lydon has changed his views on hippies since his Sex Pistols days.

Public Image Ltd

After an hour-and-a-half, PiL leave the stage. Encores are a strange thing these days and audiences don’t have to do much to get bands back on stage. After a few minutes, PiL are back on. Lydon says he needed a fag break and complains about the smoking ban. He seems to feel the audience are a bit tame and shy tonight, but I’m not sure what he was expecting. The crowd are predominantly older folk from the punk era. Many are clearly long-standing PiL fans and others have come to see what their hero is up to these days. There are a few younger folks around, but it is a shame there are not more, as PiL are an essential part of modern music history.

Public Image Ltd

However, tonight PiL also demonstrate that they have plenty new to say and stylistically they have moved significantly forward. The evening ends with ‘Open Up’, a song that Lydon recorded with the band Leftfield in 1993, after which he introduces the members of PiL. Lydon has a reputation as being an arch-cynic, but at the end he stares thoughtfully into the audience and thanks them and he seems genuinely moved by the enthusiastic reception.

Public Image Ltd

Set list: (This is Not) a Love Song; Deeper Water; Albatross; Reggie Song; Disappointed; Warrior; Religion; Flowers of Romance; Lollipop Opera; Death Disco; Bags; Chant; Out of the Woods; One Drop; Rise; Open Up.

Photographs and Review by John Bentley

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