Brian Whitney
Lydon Wins The Weekend

Public Image Ltd. @ The Pabst Theater

By - May 2nd, 2010 11:11 pm
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image courtesy CJ Foeckler

Friday night was full of promise. I’d managed to secure tickets to the Bucks’ Game 6 battle with the Hawks, and planned to immediately follow that up with a trip to the Pabst Theater to see Public Image Ltd. Combine that with the suddenly temperate weather that Friday afternoon provided, and everything seemed easy, even preordained, for success. Or at least it seemed that way drinking beers in 80 degree weather and watching people get their faces painted green and red outside the Bradley Center.

3 hours later, sloughing through the rain as I made my way towards the Pabst, I was trying to figure out exactly what had happened. The shots just hadn’t fallen for the Bucks, and the end result was that my worldview had become quite fatalistic. I was certain that I was about to see some nostalgia show, the equivalent of a bunch of drunk uncles at a family reunion trying to bang out the songs they wrote 20 years earlier (see my review of Motorhead/Reverend Horton Heat for this site for more detail on that sort of thing.) There’s a crucial difference here: while most of the bands that have reunited in the past decade are clearly in it for a cash grab (‘sup, Pixies?), PiL actually had to sell a song for use in a butter commercial to pay for this tour.

30 seconds into the show it became clear that this was a labor of love, and the band brought it. It didn’t really matter that the band’s classic lineup of Keith Levene/Jah Wobble/Martin Atkins was absent, or that the band’s setlist was dominated by material from dollar-bin records like Happy and 9. John Lydon/Rotten shockingly hasn’t lost any of his vocal range or trademark wit; his between-songs banter was impressively on point as the band dropped jams like a surprisingly fresh version of 1989’s “Disappointed” (a song that I never realized was #1 on the US Billboard Modern Rock chart until just now. Weird). I woke up Friday morning with the song “Annalisa” stuck in my head, and I was really hoping it’d make an appearance, but the closing pair of Metal Box’s “Chant” and First Issue’s “Religion” more than made up for it. I genuinely believe that if Metal Box came out today, it’d still be fresher and more vital than anything released by bands like The National or whatever modern indie shit people are buying now; I’d now go so far as to say that if this current incarnation of PiL remade that record it would accomplish the same.

One aspect of the performance I really wasn’t expecting was the surprising amount of positive vibes emanating from Mr. Rotten and co. I guess in that aspect, Rotten has changed a bit since the snarling young man who boldly declared that he was the Antichrist as a Sex Pistol, but most of his lyrics were subtly tongue in cheek, too subtle for most of the band’s fans (watching people slam dancing to “Bodies” is always good for a laugh.) In the wake of Malcolm McLaren’s passing, many people have been quick to call him a genius, but few remember that he thought he could keep the Pistols going after Rotten quit. John was always bigger than the Pistols, and PiL proved that point both in the diverse array of influences displayed on its early recorded material and at last night’s show.

In retrospect, John Lydon did what I totally expected Bucks point guard Brandon Jennings to do; he delivered a transcendent performance when I needed him to, and in doing so defined the night. I’m amazed that someone could retain their core values at his age, to succeed where so many others have failed (Neil Young, say.) Hopefully this isn’t the last PiL tour, and if what I saw Friday can be believed, the band would be foolish not to keep going.

Categories: Review

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