public image live

Public Image Limited

Concorde 2, Brighton –  15th August 2012

"We asked to play somewhere intimate. They gave us a fucking lapdancing club! Wanna see my tits?"

130 minutes later, and John Lydon, ‘wet as a sanitary napkin’, departs the small stage, which is now sopping with sweat and a bottle of Remy Martin which has been gargled and spat out so as to keep his strep throat in check.

The trouble – one of the troubles – with music criticism in the 1980s, was that cultural studies methodologies were shoehorned in at every opportunity. Semiology was the favourite, the deconstruction of signs conducted in order to explain just what such and such an act or artifact 'meant'. The experience itself became secondary to what it represented. And no-one carried more cultural accretions than John Lydon. He was the flower in the dustbin, the man who invented the punk rock sneer, the man who, oddly, called Bill Grundy ‘Siegfried’, and who stormed off television shows. He was the man who said ‘No’. Later, he was derided by some as a sell-out who played with the reformed Sex Pistols for the cash, and later still he did I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here, Country Life butter ads, and Question Time. Some might call him a national treasure, good old John. 'National Treasure' is what they call you when you’re no longer a threat to whatever it is that feels threatened, when you’ve been rendered safe, sexless, a teller of anecdotes rather than a suggester of new possibilities.

In that respect, John Lydon is not a national treasure. His final words tonight were, "We are Public Image Limited, this is what we do, this is what we love doing." On guitar is Lu Edmunds, formerly of The Damned and Catweazle conventions, on motorik drumming is Bruce Smith, once of The Pop Group, and Scott Frith on bass would once have been called a session man. It’s clearly not the legendary line-up with Keith Levene and Jah Wobble, but, simply, those chaps wouldn’t and couldn’t have done what this bunch do. Yes, the original combination’s version of 'Careering' on The Old Grey Whistle Test is indeed worthy of Anne Nightingale’s remark ‘That was the most powerful performance I’ve ever seen on Whistle Test’, but what we experience now is something more inclusive, accessible, embracing, communal. And competent. Lydon’s voice is the most smile-inducing surprise of the evening: to use the jargon so sullied by TV’s The Voice, he nails and owns every song. We start with 'This Is Not A Love Song', end with the Leftfield collaboration, 'Burn Hollywood Burn', and between those bookends there’s a quality selection from 1978 onwards, from 'Religion' and 'Attack' to 'Flowers Of Romance', 'Disappointed', 'Chant' and 'Albatross', interspersed with most of This Is PiL, this year’s album. Along with Kevin Rowland and Dexys, in 2012 PiL have turned the horror of "we’re going to do a new number, now" into a joy. Not that Lydon would ever utter such a sentence, of course. He gives just the right amount of the sneer, but always with a twinkle, just as he did with Louise Mensch on Question Time, though it should be noted that she resigned from Parliament shortly afterwards.

That reference to love, in his farewell, is significant. Where love was once two minutes and fifty two seconds of squelching noises, it’s now a potent force, a reaching out rather than a fear of intimacy. 'Death Disco', Lydon’s witnessing of his mother dying, was originally one man’s grief, now it’s an acceptance that all flowers end up rotten and dead, a sense that we’re all in this together. Experiencing every last drop.

Words by Andrew Darling

public image live

Concorde 2, Brighton – 16th August 2012

"Hello again, Brighton. You must be gluttons for punishment," beams Johnny before Public Image 2012 launch into 'This Is Not A Love Song' and proceed to sweep away the packed auditorium in a tidal wave of sweat and a quite astonishing amount of decibels.

Only a few months ago the chances of seeing of Public Image Limited playing live again appeared remote in the extreme, let alone seeing them in such an intimate venue. Yet here is the music world's most potent front man barely ten feet away exuding confidence and charm, wagging his arms with excitement and quite clearly having the time of his life. You would even describe him as avuncular if it wasn't for the extraordinary delivery of his vocals, both biting and resonant, and the astounding noise emanating from his latest playmates.

Guitarist Lu Edmunds is a wonder. When he takes to the stage you anticipate a request for "just a little bit of cheese", but instead the man who once left PiL suffering with tinnitus enthralls with his mastery of a marvellous array of instruments, sending waves of feedback through a banjo, playing his guitar with a sparkly, hand held fan and delivering crushing noise through what appears to be little more than an overgrown toothpick. With Bruce Smith hammering away relentlessly on the drums with his unerring autobahn beat, we have here a large portion of the Happy? era PiL, who quite frankly never before sounded this good or looked this .... happy? Scott Frith, the new boy on bass, doesn't disappoint either. He may not have the presence and attitude of Wobble, but his playing is immense and when the third song 'Albatross' begins to rumble, it hits unimagined heights. This, in 2012 ...

The greatest praise you can offer the new album, This Is PiL, is that the new songs fit in so well you can barely see the joins. 'One Drop', 'Lollipop Opera' and 'Out Of The Woods' are all terrific and brilliantly complement the wide range of songs plucked from all eras of the band's history. Of course there are highlights: 'Albatross' , 'Death Disco' and 'The Flowers of Romance' tear at the fabric of the world, but there are also surprises: 'Religion' and 'Burn, Hollywood Burn' in the encore and the absence of 'Bad Life', 'Poptones' and, most unexpectedly. 'Public Image'.

To be fair, very few of the audience care about the colour of John's hair; nobody is here to pose, just to have a good time in the seldom-found company of this remarkable collection of musicians. There's not many youngsters and plenty of bald heads, but you can be sure nobody leaves the venue thinking they have been cheated. Public Image Limited leave an indelible impression, and not just in a thousand eardrums. When you've changed the world as a teenager, it must be difficult to plot your path as a fifty-something, but when Johnny says he loves doing this, it's obvious that he does. It's hard to tell if this revival is going to be a glorious new chapter in the history of Public Image Limited, or whether it will just be a glorious farewell. Either way, it should be enough that it is glorious.

Words by Adam

lu edmunds
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