tue 23/07/2024

Public Image Limited, Heaven | reviews, news & interviews

Public Image Limited, Heaven

Public Image Limited, Heaven

Does this mean we have to take John Lydon seriously?

Butter wouldn't melt... Johnny Lydon

Ever since he walked out on the Sex Pistols in January ’78, John Lydon’s music has divided opinion. In the shadow of reductive three-chord punk, his first incarnation of Public Image Ltd was fabulously exploratory and musical, blending fathoms-deep reggae bass, Krautrock and disco into its gnarly, alienated soundworld.

After that line-up fragmented, he has touched on much else besides – electro, heavy metal, house, even forward-looking, upscale pop – never settling long enough in one parish to unite critical or popular consensus.

What must now finally be beyond dispute is that the line-up he activated circa Christmas ’09 is an absolutely smokin’ live band, touching on everything PiL ever has, with a dexterity and an impassioned oomph which is otherwise impossible to find on the market these days. Initially rather frowned upon, ostensibly for not including original members Jah Wobble (bass) and Keith Levene (guitar/synth) amongst their number, this quartet has had to prove itself from the ground up, rightfully if slightly grudgingly garnering rave reviews at every turn for their inspired handling of the rambling PiL catalogue.

A song themed around one of his newfound hobbies, yachting, and the joys of sailing out into the unknown

Here, with a brilliant new album on the way, they were playing two sold-out nights at London’s premier gay nitespot – surely the last chance to witness their sorcery in such cosy confines.

After trading on his sharp tongue and limitless charisma for most of the ’90s and ’00s, Lydon himself has toned down the mush of late. Emerging in a mid-brown kagoule and a pair of rimless specs, he led the charge without much fuss into "Deeper Water", a highlight from next month’s pointedly entitled This Is PiL. It’s a song themed around one of his newfound hobbies, yachting, and the joys of sailing out into the unknown – a metaphor, surely, for this band’s journeying spirit. To the right, Scott Firth pumped out a supremely dextrous up-and-down bassline, locked tight to sticksman Bruce Smith’s rhythmic surges.

On the left, resembling a long-lost member of Grinderman with his grizzly beard, Lu Edmonds quickly instated himself as every inch a worthy successor to Levene, and indeed the late John McGeoch from latter-era PiL. Unshowily lyrical, a master of shimmering texture, he quietly dusted down a range of sumptuous electric guitars, as well as an amped-up Turkish saz, and, during "Flowers Of Romance", a banjo which he sawed at with a violin bow.

There is a strong sense of this remarkable four-piece being on a mission to remind the world that there’s more to life than the sprawling, experimentalism of 1979’s landmark Metal Box album. Though early on there was an ominous "Albatross", they were more out to enforce a knees-up vibe, with tunes like "This Is Not A Love Song" and "Death Disco", a song actually from Metal Box about the agony of gradually losing his mother to cancer, which was beefed up into a no-holds-barred dancefloor monster. It may be about dying, Lydon noted, approximately, but as an Irishman he can navigate his way through anything towards a good time.

Otherwise, and apart from unscripted rants about bass culture and paedophilia in the Catholic priesthood during "Religion", his focus was entirely on giving a quite inspirational singing performance. Forever bullying his voice into its higher registers, and into uncharted melodic twists, he was beyond magnetic – you simply couldn’t take your eyes and ears off him. Yet there’s a fabulous equilibrium about present-day PiL, where Lydon’s ever-formidable ego slots into a sensitively integrated whole.

Perhaps the greatest endorsement of its calibre was the fact that, laced in amongst a greatest-hits set with palpable enthusiasm, new tracks like "Reggie Song" (about one of Lydon’s ever-sunny muckers from Finsbury Park) and "One Drop" (about the difficulty of getting on the good foot in a crazy world) shaped up memorably. Then, as big-hitters "Rise" and a frenzied "Open Up" thundered the show to a conclusion, it seemed transparently obvious that given, say, the right festival stage and a broad-minded crowd, these boys could corrall the best party on earth.

Watch video of 'Rise' below:


Blending fathoms-deep reggae bass, Krautrock and disco into its gnarly, alienated soundworld


Editor Rating: 
Average: 5 (1 vote)

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When will people like this writer get off the triumphalism/demonism strategy and just write about what they like? PiL and the Pistols are as important as any groups have been or can be - they've shown us things about our lives. AND been fun, too. Phrases like "worthy successor", and "remarkable fourpiece" are just more journalese. If this music's any use to anyone, it's just true - real - not some professional achievement!

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