Public Image Limited – ABC, Glasgow – 26/07/10
The orange scramble net hangs at the back of the vacant stage. At its centre there is a huge circle bearing the familiar, italicised letters in stark black and white : P-i-L. It’s branding at its best. Simple, effective, unforgettable. It’s also a statement of intent. Public Image Limited are back and there will be no supporting cast tonight. People stand around in small huddles chatting while the road crew make the stage ready and the ABC slowly fills up.
Around 8.45 the band takes to the stage with no fanfare and gently start building up the intro to This Is Not A Love Song. The sound is wonderful – at once expansive and yet spacious – allowing plenty of room for Johnny’s distinctive vocal to shape the song. He may look the same, dressed in his oversized shirt and baggy trousers with his trademark red spiked hair, but there’s no trace of the pantomime villain I saw fronting the Sex Pistols a few years back. Tonight, it’s very much John Lydon that’s in the house. And he’s serious about the performance tonight, eyes closed, concentrating hard on getting the delivery just right. He even gargles his brandy and spits it into a bucket by the drum riser! Yes he’s serious alright.
Without dropping a beat the band moves into Poptones with new boy Scott Firth replicating the throbbing Wobble bassline to perfection. The song’s hypnotic rhythm sucks you in and before long you find yourself completely lost in the music. Like much of the set tonight, it gets an extended workout and yet, while it’s playing, all sense of time disappears. It’s only thinking about it afterwards that you realise.
The band is positioned quite far back on the stage which inevitably keeps the focus on Lydon. However, he is only a part of the equation. Like many, I poo-pooed the initial reunion because of the missing Levine and Wobble, the “classic” P.I.L. line up. However, these guys really do something special tonight. Their versatility is unquestionable. In particular, Lu Edmunds pulls out the stops, all the while looking like a demented Fagin character, stick thin with his long, straggly hair and pork-pie hat as he hops around in the shadows. As well as an array of guitars, tonight he also turns his hands to banjo (strummed and bowed) and some kinda long, skinny lute type instrument as he conjures up the most amazing sounds. It’s testament to the skills of these guys that they manage to meld the completely distinct styles of the early and late period P.I.L. material into a common sound that does justice to both. At the end of the set, Lydon gives credit to them all individually and also to their sound engineer who also does a sterling job.
There’s the occasional flash of the Rotten of old – when he slays a solitary beer-thrower with a withering diatribe – but in the main, Johnny is very good natured and seems to be enjoying playing these songs again. He seems more at ease, more himself, and his current vocal is so much more suited to this material. Maybe after all these years he finally is getting rid of the Albatross as he sings in the song of the same title.
Death Disco surprises me with its danceability, with Lu really rocking it up when he chimes in with the Swan Lake guitar motif. I’m also pleasantly surprised at how well the later period stuff works. Very synthetic sounding on record, it left me cold at the time yet this band somehow makes it more organic sounding tonight and it works really well. I will have to revisit the albums for another listen.
After a wonderful segueway from Bags into Chant, the main set ends with a majestic Religion featuring some of Lydon’s most hard-hitting and heartfelt lyrics. It’s a potential can of worms in this neck of the woods but I’m impressed with the deftness in which he handles it by changing the words to “your religionS”. Simple yet effective. Half way through the song, he requests that the sound-man turns up Firth’s bass. He duly obliges and the song truly never sounded so good. At the end Johnny does the credits and introductions before they leave the stage to a great reception.
After a short and noisy break, they return for an encore. The opening salvo of Public Image brings about some serious action on the dancefloor. It also brings about an influx of people who seem to have been waiting for this song and this song only all night. Things are getting boisterous and my view obscured so I take the opportunity to head to the bar for a final drink. The view and sound from the back is terrific so I stay there for the remainder of the set, a run through the wonderful Rise and John’s Leftfield collaboration, Open Up. The band really do it justice and the extended workout is a great finisher for the set.
I wonder if there will be any more, but a quick look at my watch tells me that, at 11pm, they’ve been playing for about 2.1/4 hours! It certainly didn’t feel like that long. I would have certainly taken more but I think they did really well with what we got. This was a really terrific gig. The band is clearly well into their stride, playing a set comprising a great spread of material. I’d go and see them again tomorrow if I got the opportunity.
(Before I finish, I have to give props to the ABC which continues to impress me as a venue. It has a great sound system. The layout is good offering a decent vantage point from anywhere in the room. The bar area is spacious and there’s plenty of staff who are efficient and polite and their prices aren’t too excessive. Even the toilets are roomy and clean and free from queues! This is probably my favourite venue in the UK at the moment.)
New York Johnny
This Is Not A Love Song
Tie Me To The Length Of That
Four Enclosed Walls
Flowers Of Romance
Official PiL Website