Thoughts on Public Image Ltd at Mill City Nights
Seeing someone like John Lydon live, in the flesh, is a somewhat surreal experience. The punk/post-punk legend has built up, and maintained, a mythical status, which makes for an interesting experience seeing such a person live for the first time. Is it enough to see his goofy grin and manic “dancing,” knowing this is the guy behind the legendary craziness of The Sex Pistols and PiL, or does you $30+ ticket require a solid musical performance? Luckily for the decent sized crowd gathered at the shiny new Mill City Nights venue, we weren’t forced to choose.
Public Image Ltd could easily coast. They could do a short song and dance, play a few of their better known tracks and call it a night. From the opening drum hits and wobbly bass lines introducing “This is Not a Love Song,” it was obvious that this wasn’t happening from this was a lean and powerful incarnation of the group. Whether they were busting out classics (the dark and manic “Albatross” from Second Edition or an extended, high energy version of “Warrior”) or new tracks (the thundering “One Drop”), Lydon proved to be a court jester leading the darkest, most hypnotic circus in town. Even when songs were stretched out beyond their already fairly long length and Lydon was doing little more than yelling slogans ad nauseum, there was a sinister groove that permeated through the club. There was something magical about the songs when they locked into their pocket, an airtight cacophony that rattled deep into your brain. The songs exposed the band for their utter seriousness and deep affinity for creating songs that seemed to stretch until they couldn’t bend anymore, finally releasing, usually into euphoric guitars leads. These commanding songs somehow maintained their power despite being at times overtaken by a lunatic Adams Family outcast yelling, screaming and growling at the crowd. The band allows Lydon to venture into character, and Lydon allows them to lock into endless grooves, a combination that, when it works, is pure magic. The PiL sound can be stirring on record, but was even better up on stage.
The crowd seemed a little subdued for Lydon’s taste (they also provided a glimpse into my future…old, white and bald), which at one point caused him to ask the crowd to boo him, which seemed to give him great joy. He was the consummate showman and his robotic dancing and snarling faces were worth the price of admission, but his backing band allowed for this to be something more than a novelty act. Public Image Ltd are, and forever will be, known as the “post Sex Pistols” band of one Johnny Rotten, but the nearly 2.5 hour show Monday night proved they don’t need to be boxed in by their past. No matter what the reason that got people in the door at Mill City Nights on Monday, I a confident everyone got what they were looking for.