Public Image Ltd/The Selecter
O2 Academy, Liverpool
16th October 2013
35 years have passed since the initial Great British 2 Tone/new wave explosion and very little has changed. We need groups like The Selecter & PIL more than ever writes Sean Diamond.
The gaps between the rich and the poor are as wide as ever, towns and cities all over the country are being destroyed by clueless property developers, costly and pointless council schemes are generally based upon a minority of the public’s irrational demands for better transport facilities (which do very little to help most people), and there is a pervasive mood of fear and confusion caused in part by right wing scaremongering and a dismissal and mistrust of the country’s youth population by adults who should know better. It’s a time of chronic unemployment, riots, redundancies, tantrums, tiaras, tears and Tory governments. Yep, very little has changed alright…
This is a fact ackowledged by The Selecter‘s frontperson, Ms Pauline Black, during the introduction of her band’s monster hit ‘On my Radio’. “35 years and nothing has changed ON MY RADIO.” The Selecter dazzle with their high octane rollercoaster ride of ska, pop, roots and punk. Pauline Black is a captivating performer; jumping around the stage relentlessly, aiming playful kicks at band members and blessed with a voice capable of making you grin like a fool one minute (the supremely giddy ska/punk anthem ‘Three Minute Hero’) and well up the next (a startlingly poignant take on the break up song ‘Missing Words’). Arriving from the same 2-Tone explosion as The Specials and Madness, but never quite as highly regarded or remembered as either of those acts, for some reason, The Selecter are a must-see live act.
The only slight disappointment was the lack of any tracks from their second album ‘Celebrate The Bullet’, a tense recording dripping with cold war paranoia and fear for the future which still sounds alarmingly prescient today, although magnificent renditions of ‘James Bond’ , ‘Too Much Pressure’ and their recording debut, the self titled instrumental which served as the B-Side to The Specials’ debut single ‘Gangsters’ act as more than adequate compensation. It’s a thrilling 60 min set which goes down a storm with the crowd, cries for more echoing around the venue by the end, in true punk spirit the band announce that they will be signing stuff for fans outside. Incidentally, fans of comedy/horror/punk/2 Tone should check out the brilliant 1994 British comedy-slasher flick ‘Funny Man‘, in which Ms Black plays a heroin addicted Jamaican paranormal investigator. Wish I had brought my DVD along…..
I first reviewed Public Image Ltd about three years ago for the Oxford based events site Daily Info. Since then they have released a new album, ‘This Is PIL’, a surprise critical smash and a damn fine album in its own right, so was naturally curious to see how well these new tracks would translate live. Lydon is, in his own words, “a little bit hammered”, having received a BMI award for contributions to songwriting, so he apologises for “what is to follow.” He needn’t, because for the most part it’s fucking brilliant. You cannot take your eyes off Lydon for one second; dressed in a cream anorak, he truly is a sight to behold engaging in some bizarre Peter Crouch style robotic dancing, hunching his back in possible homage to Olivier’s Richard III (a performance he has described as pivotal to the development of his onstage persona), and fixing the audience with his intense, yet strangely compassionate thousand yard stare which shows no signs of waning throughout despite his apparent inebriation. It’s sometimes easy to forget the impact Lydon’s music had on the musical landscape of the late seventies and early eighties. A product of his time, seething, cynical yet burning with a fierce intelligence and piercing self awareness, Lydon did something very few (possibly even no) musicians have ever managed; he ripped apart the rule book twice! First, of course, with The Sex Pistols, who told the disaffected youth of the time that anything was possible and ended up defining an entire scene; secondly with Public Image, who introduced many young punks to music they may not otherwise have discovered such as dub reggae, krautrock and Beefheart. Endless Sex Pistols reunions and a certain butter advert (hardly the crime of the century, particularly when musicians of a similar stature are rarely taken to account for talking to The Sun newspaper) have led some circles of the press to portray Lydon as something of a joke figure, which couldn’t be further from the truth.
The setlist is similar to the one I witnessed last time with some slight alterations. Highlights from the old guard include a thunderous ‘Albatross’, the attack on Pistols manager Malcolm Mclaren which opens the masterful ‘Metal Box/Second Edition’, ‘This Is Not A love Song’, an elegiac ‘Low Life’, Lydon’s tribute to Sid Vicious taken from the debut album, and takes on ‘Careering’ and the game changing single ‘Death Disco’ which reach Das Boot levels of suffocating claustrophobia. ‘Warrior’, a track which has regrettably, though unsurprisingly, found favour as an anthem within some of the lower orders of the British far right in recent times thanks to its lyrics of “no surrender” and “this is my land”, is happily given a makeover, Lydon changing “my” to “our” and extolling the virtues of living in a land shared by “all creeds and colours.” Happily, this seems to be a view shared by the majority here tonight, who lap it up amidst a crimson tide of good natured moshing and dancing.
New tracks include the ace comeback single ‘One Drop’, the 54 year old Lydon gleefully yelling “we are teenagers” without a smidgen of irony! There’s also ‘Reggie Song’, with its defining refrains of “I come from London. Many of us come from London”, “I am from Finsbury park, and I am having a lark” and an ear shreddingly catchy pop chorus which references the Garden of Eden, a throwback to the religious imagery of earlier PIL tracks such as ‘Four Enclosed Walls.’
‘Out Of The Woods’ is another highlight, with its ambiguous lyrics and spooked out underground reggae vibes. There isn’t as much memorable banter as the last time I saw them, in which Lydon suggested the crowd beat up a security guard who he believed to have been pushing people around, but this could be due to the celebratory mood both in the crowd and within the ranks of the band. For an encore we get ‘Public Image’, a superb ‘Rise’ and the Leftfield collab ‘Open Up’, which sounds a little karaokeish tonight but provokes a highly entertaining reaction from the crowd. Another great set, proof that age doesn’t matter a jot in the turbulent climate we are becoming upsettingly accustomed to living in; anyone with a voice, soul, sense of humour and ability to see through all the bullshit deserves to be celebrated. Still kicking against the pricks after all this time, here’s hoping Mr Rotten continues to confound, confuse and confront us for many more years to come.
We need more to follow his example ….
All words by Sean Diamond. More work by Sean Diamond can be found in his Louder Than War archive.