Public Image Ltd
Finsbury Park, London
Well today was never going to be easy…
There he is onstage- the former Finsbury park antichrist, the ragdoll that defied the establishment, the fiercely inteligent iconclast who launched a million sneers, the man who put the pun into punk and the destroyer of rock n roll in 1976.
It’s John Lydon and he’s looking good for near 60 and still gets away with the wardrobe eccentricities- this time an expensive looking poncho affair.
Probably hand picked for the Stone Roses support by Sex Pistols fan Ian Brown, El Rotto is not playing breezy sixties guitar pop to appease anyone and takes great joy in rubbing up disbelievers the wrong way as he stands on his own former village green and bellows out the lyrics in that familiar wail that is like no other.
The new Pil album, This Is Pil, that came out last year had some great moments on it and it’s these that are the high points of tonight’s set- One Drop is anthemic live, a huge sprawling slab of autobiography with its subsonic, neo techno groove and dirty disco thing that beautifully can’t escape the punkoid wail of the vocalist . It opens the set and sets the stall for the band who are great players- from the hairy Lu Edmonds who was once of the Damned all those years ago in the punk wars and now playing his bouzouki type thing like it was an electric guitar and laying down those eastern chimes over that crack rhythm section. Reggie Song has the massive sound built for outdoor events and that weirdly eccentric and introverted vocal from the ever-charismatic front man who relishes the challenge of getting this off centre music into the lugholes of very different audience.
It’s these new album tunes that work the best, after all this is the band that put them together and it is their natural sound. Their version of Public Image does not work so well though and makes you yearn for the original Wobble/Levene/Wobble trio whose voodoo and tension were so perfect for that time- on the other hand they deliver a credible version of the great Death Disco- one of the most off kilter hit singles ever.
That’s not to knock this line up, it’s a great team but better suited to the music that they created themselves (shame they didn’t play Lollipop Opera- I love that one) and also the later period Pil material like a great version of Rise and a powerful brooding take on the Leftfield/Lydon song Open Up which finally gets a great reaction from the audience who are waiting for the Stone Roses.
Lydon has already got the legendary status signed, sealed and delivered. In 1976/77 he changed everything and then tore it all up and started again with those early PiL albums. His awkward and provocative presence was perfect then and it’s always great to see Pil these days (this is my fifth time in a year). The fact they don’t fit in anywhere is a major victory for their wilfully eccentric frontman and testament to their rare genius for being genuinely original misfits in a sea of mediocrity.
1. One Drop
2. This Is Not a Love Song
3. Reggie Song
5. Flowers of Romance
6. Death Disco
7. Public Image
9. Open Up
All words by John Robb. John’s author archive is HERE.