For me, John Lydon belongs to the division of those who kept rising without compromising, of those who kept doing their thing, whether they made mistakes or not. People whose image could never be harmed by controversy as they couldn’t care less of that, but of what they believed in and had to deliver. People who carried on music history and who still do that. In what concerns him or for example a Henry Rollins, a Phil Anselmo, a Roger Waters, they impose respect by their intransigence.
Always in the avant-garde since the beginning, original and non-conformist, John Lydon joins the group Sex Pistols in 1975, the group who invented punk as we know it. In 1978, he formed Public Image Ltd, his band for the next 14 years. Experimental and innovative, PiL has a very distinct place in the post-punk era.
In the 2000s, the wave of reunions, which filled in the void created by the absence of serious music on the mainstream scene, imposed also the Sex Pistols reunion. However, in 2009 Johnny Rotten reunites PiL, but not anyway. Their success might have been unexpected or might have been prepared by the punk-rock revival scene that kept the style warm the best it could during the 90s. But PiL speaks for itself: they have been touring for 3 years already, issued two live albums, an EP and a brand new album as good as ever – This Is PiL, their first album in 20 years. To understand what makes some radio DJs playing this album entirely in their shows and how good could the group be after so many years, there is room for seeing a concert.
The concert in Brighton on 15 August was part of PiL Tour 2012. PiL had many dates in Europe, preferring festivals and not very big halls, to be close to the public. Concorde 2 Club is a small venue situated on the seafront of the UK North Sea. PiL had two concerts in Brighton, the first on 15 August and second one on 16 August. Both sold out.
On the concert day, I received an email from the organisers, asking for not being late, as PiL would perform a long set. Indeed, despite the extreme heat they had on stage, inhuman and obviously troubling for the band, the concert lasted two hours. And besides the music, I must thank John for not ruling in favour of a concert lasting 1 hour and 20 minutes, the usual format practiced in small clubs.
The setlist was a mix from their entire discography. Also 5 songs from This Is PiL were inserted: Deeper Water, One Drop, Lollipop Opera, Reggie Song and Out of The Woods at encore.
The opening was made with This Is Not a Love Song, and judging by the entrance and the hall reaction, there was a complete validation of the feeling that the entire room was in the mood for PiL. Mood which grew higher and higher to a thrilling second part of concert, where the interpretations of Flowers of Romance and Religion II were long, special and full of character. And the switch from one to the other seemed to me the most exciting part: via the Lollipop Opera, which continued the jumping pace, followed by Death Disco and a great mix between Bags and Chant. Religion lasted for over 10 minutes, not only with an excellent bass line (Scott Firth) elegantly and delicately backed by the drums (Bruce Smith), but also with vocals and a distinguished guitar (Lu Edmonds) which resulted in a mesmerising version that made me think: look, not only space rock can make you close your eyes and fly away … John Lydon’s voice is in an excellent shape, strong and full of attitude.
The sound was perfect and a second wave of my gratitude goes to PiL, as nowadays too many concerts are ruined for lack of professionalism in this respect. Instead of watching live recordings on youtube, their album Live At The Isle Of Wight Festival in 2011, would definitely be a better option to grasp the concert’s tone. The songs do not have the same sound of the 80s which can be found on the albums. They are live interpretations, stronger then ever and much articulated.
It was neither a reunion concert nor a concert to promote the new album, it was a live performance meant to reach the public, no matter how steady or changed the public was. And this is what I admire at Lydon, who was never a prisoner of the past – he played for today’s public, the public in which he never lost faith. He played for an audience “who knows exactly what it’s doing”, as he said at the end. And I believe that his avant-garde genius and the feeling of omnipresence we get from him consist exactly in this: he played for the present, without compromise and without any hint of commercialism, on the principle I’m ok, you’re ok, we just have something against politicians.