NOVEMBER 2nd 2015
Public Image Ltd

Review by Lana Muirhead
Photos by Peter Ruttan


With no opener and a small host of loyal fans, Public Image Lt (PiL) took to the stage in a timely manner at The Vogue on Sunday, November 22, 2015. There was no real pomp, circumstance, or grand entrance; the band just walked on stage to a glorious eruption of excitement.

A simple backdrop with the iconic PiL symbol adorned the rear wall and was broken up by the shadows of drummer Bruce Smith, bassist and ivory tickler Scott Firth, guitarist Lu Edmonds, and vocalist/all-round shit disturber John Lydon (aka Johnny Rotten) as they took their respective positions.  Like an awed kid who finally finds the cookie jar but takes that last pause before diving in, the crowd held their collective breath and went elbow deep into cheers as PiL launched into their set.

With no remorse, the newest single “Double Trouble” off the September 2015 release “What The World Needs Now” kick-started what was to be a really nostalgic show.  As always, the lyrics sparked both a laugh and careful consideration simultaneously. Other new releases served up were “Bettie Page” (about the iconic pin-up), “Know Now”, “Deeper Water”, and “Corporate” with a sprinkle of naughty oldies like “Death Disco” and “This Is Not A Love Song”.  So as not to disappoint, there were also socio-political numbers like “The Body” and “Religion”. The encore consisted of “Public Image” – PiL’s first ever release - and the ever popular 1986 tune “Rise”.

The rebellious edge that Lydon has nursed, popularized, and perfected since the age of 7 has further blossomed into an all-out sense of entitlement with a side of cocky bastard.  No complaints!  It makes for a funny experience.  About 2/3 of the way through the set, a drunken “fucking cow” was pointed out by Lydon and told to be removed.  Security made their way in and manhandled the disruptive sow out of the venue.  No doubt it was well-deserved.  And no doubt SOME tomfoolery was expected by the band: it is fucking PiL.  Not sure what all was expected as the only barrier PiL brought with them was a thin little red suspender-wearing dude that stood side stage and advanced when Lydon called someone out. I guess they figured the crowd would be as calm, cool, and collected as the group on stage: and mostly it was.  But if there’s anyone that can drink and make a good ole fashioned fool of themselves, it’s apparently folks in a PiL crowd.

For those of you who haven’t seen PiL in a while, or don’t know who they are, frontman Lydon, formerly of The Sex Pistols formed back in the mid 70s, put PiL together in 1978 after the ‘Pistols’ split.  Lydon has been the only consistent PiL member since its inception, along with a revolving door of members and session musicians. The current lineup has been together since 2009.  Although no one band member shines above the rest, it is impossible to say that the deliciously devious and feverishly ferocious Lydon voice does not define what is PiL. Visually, Lydon looks more like a Bubbles character these days, as opposed to the punky, anti-authority image stuck in our heads from The Sex Pistols days, with thick glasses and a round middle, gesticulating and vibrating on stage (episode idea, Trailer Park Boys???  Founding Drummer Jim Walker is Canadian…). Edmonds resembled an Amish mortician and literally looked like he was being stung every second lick he took of his guitar.  Regardless of their look (father time spares no one!) let’s talk about the sound for fuckssakes.

PiL worked haphazardly through their set but, even out of chronological order, there was a jarring realization as to the importance of Public Image Ltd at the time of each song’s release. Whether experimenting with sound machines and synthesizers, pioneering the use of aluminum-bodied guitars, or ranting in the middle of a song about things only discussed in dark corners, PiL set the stage for those to come.  They are ever-evolving and always looking to integrate and blur the boundaries commonly held-fast by musical genres. They were called punk before punk was punk; they were called alternative before Lollapalooza was a brain baby and they caught the imagination of rockers and pop-ers alike.  They always seem to be pioneers or front-runners in the musical sperm donation that is the evolution and expansion of the art of music.

The uniqueness and forever sly or satirical nature to all that is PiL makes them a difficult band to critique. Was anything overly complicated from a musical or timing stand-point?  No. Was some of the music machine-made? Sure. But the ensemble and the character behind all that is sung is solely Lydon’s and when you’ve been in the game for almost 40 years as a professional, you’ve earned the right to yell at the crowd, rant in songs, and take a smoke break during the set.  No one’s gonna leave cause they want to hear what’s next.

Although I was not even a swimmer in my pop’s testes at the time PiL got their start, I was able to march through musical time and keep in step during the set. I especially loved that bit of badass that said ‘fuck you’ to religion way back in the day and yet still calls out to Jesus to free us from its tyranny. I loved the alternating swigs of tea and vodka between songs, and I loved the crowd challenge to yell out the most obscene and raunchy thing that it could muster. I loved that in PiL’s eyes the world will always need another “fuck you”. Ever important, ever relevant, ever political, ever evolving, and ever scoundrels: it will be a blast to see what comes next from the twisted and saavy Public Image Ltd whoever they may be and whatever issues will arise at that time.