Thursday 5 April 2012

Public Image Ltd at Heaven - 2 April 2012

Public Image Ltd (pic Chiaki Nozu/

The kids are elsewhere. This is a night for the faithful, the ones who still believe. I see virtually no one here this evening who is younger than myself. Very few with more hair either.

When Public Image Limited reformed last year for their ‘Metal Box’ tour, I was cynical. It seemed like a cash-in, the trampling of a legacy for a quick buck.

Then the reviews came in. And they were wonderful. I had been utterly wrong to miss out. I am here tonight to atone.

John Lydon bounces onstage and ferrets out a pair of spectacles so that he can see what he and we are all doing. A sinuous bass line erupts for ‘Deeper Water’ and Lydon is off and running. He barely pauses for breath for the next two hours.

To watch John Lydon perform is to watch an absolute master at his work. Songs are often lengthy jams that afford him plenty of time to commentate, extemporise, scream, act, laugh and yell. He is in his element, arms flailing, fingers jabbing as he inhabits a succession of personas.

The second tune of the night is ‘Love Song’, here stretched and twisted into an unrecognisable shape. A thudding bass groove weaves through the venue.

The band are all guys of a similar age to Lydon and have mostly played in previous iterations of PiL. They are just as much on top of their game as their front man.

Scott Firth looks cool in a suit, but his calm demeanour belies his penchant for laying down an ever louder, ever more bone shaking bass thrum. Across the stage, Lu Edmonds the guitarist is as wild-eyed and beardy as Rasputin. He wields a mean axe, plucks a nifty banjo and is not averse to playing either instrument with an assortment of bows and found objects.

There is little from ‘Metal Box’ this evening, but we do get a ten minute version of ‘Albatross’ , Lydon gurning good-humouredly throughout.

The absolute highlight of the night is an incredible twenty minute rendition of ‘Religion’, in which the stage turns blood red and Lydon rails and gibbers as a maniac preacher, conducting his own perverse service. At his exhortation, the bass levels are increased until first my nose starts to itch and then the organs start moving in my chest. Forces don’t come much more “Tour de” than this.

During ‘Death Disco’, the crowd around me starts to jump up and down. I join in, in an ineffectual manner. The signature drumming of ‘Flowers of Romance’ (Bruce Smith also excellent) is even more galvanic, and once again a track becomes a hypnotic ten minute plus groove. Heads nod in unison all through the venue.

There are new tracks amongst the oldies. ‘Lollipop Opera’ features an epic rap/rant from Lydon, bellowing down a megaphone, words tumbling from him a mile a minute as the band settles into an industrial-sized loping skank.

Back to the familiar then for ‘Bags’, with the singer marching on the spot until the song gradually mutates into ‘Chant’, the rest of the band and the entire crowd bawling “Love! War! Fear! Hate!”

Lydon is talkative all evening. Over two hours into the set he responds to a querulous voice from the throng with the admonition “We’re just warming up. We never go off easy.” The encore lasts a further half an hour.

PiL remain a vital group. John Lydon proves once again that he is unique, a twinkly and mocking jester at the court of Rock. Gawd bless him.

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