David J Markham, Painter, Arts Critic, Photographer
The last time I saw PIL was about 32 years ago at the Rock City in Nottingham.
I remember the evening well for two reasons. The first reason was that I was actually seeing PIL perform. John Lydon's record of holding bands together was not great and touring had almost ground to a halt.
It was not the first incarnation of the band. It was a ragtag and bobtail of session musicians as I recall but Lydon was still the main man. The second reason was that a knife fight broke out yards from where I was standing and the crowd scattered in different directions like a bomb explosion. That was the way it was back then.
Back in the day no one had access to 24 hour 7 day a week media. Sightings of punk and post punk bands on TV were rare. I remember seeing PIL on the Old Grey Whistle Test a couple of years earlier and the performance was striking. If Johnny Rotten led the charge for punk then he was no slacker in the post punk world either. Dub heavy music with a guitar that cut like a razor but never overshadowed the singer. How could it? They sure broke the mould when it came to Johnny.
So I return to see PIL tonight with some trepidation. A small club. A band with a big reputation. A lead singer who rightly or wrongly is up there with the legends of rock and roll. His audience will expect much. He's carried the torch for many generations. Question is - can he still do it? It's a question which must be asked nightly of him when touring. Rightly so.
The venue was quiet outside. I guess most people had latched on to the fact that PIL were due to start their set at 8.30pm. The band coach seemed huge. It almost stretched the length of the venue itself. PIL clearly like to travel in style these days. As I entered the building there was an expectant buzz which built as the clock ticked towards showtime. There was no build up music as such - just background reggae. It didn't lead to anything. It didn't build the crowd for the show.
At 8.30pm the band walk purposefully on stage with Lydon last of all. Without further ado the opener was Double Trouble - the first single from their newly launched album. It works better live than in the recorded format. The third song is This is not a love song. A cracker of a song from many years ago. They begin to get in their stride. They work well as a band and are able to present the song freshly and in an extended format. A 12" version if you will. It works.
Lydon definitely grafts. He really does. He sweats and shouts. He screams and howls. He tests the boundaries of what he's capable of. It's undeniably PIL. Despite his rotund physique these days he's lost none of his attack. His presence will always prevail. Ably accompanied by his life long friend Rambo who stood for the length of the show side of stage - on stage. The pair roam the highways and byways of this country and beyond like a modern day Don Quixote and Sancho Panza.
More songs followed from the new album and The One worked particularly well. Lydon swigged brandy throughout and then deposited it in a home made spitoon. Only Lydon could get away with it.
The classic Poptones followed. A rumbling track that progressively builds. Lydon sang the song with vigour but the guitar never seemed to capture the ethereal quality of the original sound. It sounded too hard. It didn't float like the original.
3 more songs and then to the Warrior. Performed with style. The band really came together to offer Lydon a perfect track into which he could inject his powerful vocals. The crowd got behind him. It was a joy to witness.
At the close of the song Lydon stumbled and was quickly taken off stage. The heat was getting to him and he needed to recover. The crowd waited respectfully and then back came Johnny - you can't keep a good man down. They ripped through a wonderful version of Religion. Brooding and dark. Observations of goings on under the surface. Then the electric power went! The band coped admirably until the power was reconnected.
The encore featured the wonderful Public Image and Rise. Both great tracks and both hugely appreciated by the crowd.
It was a good night. The band are still in fine form. PIL are alive and kicking. When Lydon did that Butter advert and other such things to help kickstart PIL he did us all a favour.
Don't go and see PIL to find the soul of Johnny Rotten - I suspect his spirit is still there but physically he's long gone. What we have now is an engaging mind with a lifetimes experience on his side.
In many respects he's always been the same. He has an amazing ability to surprise. I suspect that both he and PIL and indeed Rambo have many more miles to go just yet.
Good on you John. May the road rise with you.
Undeniably PIL, 23rd September 2015, 13:00 PM