Live Review: Public Image Limited – King George's Hall, Blackburn
15th September 2023
Support: Meryl Streek
Words: Dan Barnes
If there is a single individual who embodies the true spirit of Punk, it would be John Lydon. I don’t mean this due to his most recognised persona as Sex Pistol’s Johnny Rotten - which, understandably, irks Mr Lydon in its blatant dismissal of his far-broader musical contribution – but in his unwillingness to conform to any imposed expectation, whether musically or politically.
Forty-five years on from the First Issue debut in 1978 and eight years since last album, What the World Needs Now…, and Public Image Ltd have a new record to tour in the shape of this year’s excellent End of the World. No one would have been critical of the band if the album release or this tour had been postponed due to the personal tragedy experienced by John in April of this year; but, that he comes out on such an extensive trek is a testimony to the character of the man.
Tour support comes from Dublin avant-garde Punk, Meryl Streek, a one-man artist (tonight, at least) who rages against the world in the same manner as Bob Vylan and the Sleaford Mods. Built on a combination of New-Wave/ Post-Punk and Electronic backbeats, the short set is filled with indignant ire aimed squarely, but not exclusively, at politicians and the Catholic Church. He spends part of the set in the crowd itself, seemingly taking a leaf from Jimmy Gestapo’s book of stagecraft, and fires up the impressive turnout, making a few new friends along the way.
There’s a discussion going on within a group of lads in the car park as to which is Public Limage Ltd’s best album, and there are almost as many variations offered as there are records in their back catalogue. As if in-tune with this discussion, the band have chosen to dip into most of their titles when putting this set together.
Kicking the show off with End of the World opener, Penge, PiL hit the stage with a fabulously fat sound and a power that belies the band’s collective years. Although the new album is barely a month old, Penge came out as an advance on the record, and is sung back to the stage from all corners of the rapidly warming Windsor Suite.
The first of four stops at Metal Box – the general consensus among the lads was that if this wasn’t number one, it was certain in the top two – is the ten-minute Albatross, which sees PiL’s familiar use of hypnotic rhythms and dub reggae to great effect. Rhythm section, Scott Firth and bassist, Bruce Smith, lock down the beat and Lu Edmond’s guitar plays off John’s stream of consciousness vocals for a mesmerising performance.
Being Stupid Again is an observation of the state of academia and is prima facia evidence as to Mr Lydon’s rejection of supposed sacred cows; an acerbic critique of how student politics has escaped university bars and found their way into social consideration. As most of the crowd are of a certain age, and are no longer slaves to the follies of youth, it is well-received.
Two more of Metal Box’s tunes, Poptones and Death Disco, are separated by one of PiL’s more widely known tunes, This is Not a Love Song, causing mass bopping to breakout in response to the irresistible beats pouring from the stage.
There seems to be someone calling for Pistols’ songs down the front and John’s irritation is being stoked, particularly in the pause between The Room I Am In and Flowers of Romance, with Mr Lydon slaughtering the individual verbally through this trademark caustic wit.
The groove-oriented Car Chase is the third and final visit to End of the World, followed by The Body, Warrior and Shoom, all of which show Public Image Ltd is as far away from absurd requester as it is reasonably possible to get. When John first cuts down the heckler, after Death Disco, he unequivocally stated he will never play those songs again; that seems to be as definitive a statement on the subject as you need, in my humble opinion.
Possibly the most aggression PiL reach is in their titular song, itself a shot at the people who didn’t bother to look any further than the surface of the Punk scene, generally, but Mr Lydon specifically. A cover of Leftfield’s Open Up fits into the band’s aesthetic as though written expressly for them and the closing Rise, an anthem to the need for individualism, ends the show with a few tears in a few eyes.
Tonight, Public Image Ltd confirmed that the answer to the question: what’s their best album? is entirely in ears of the beholder. While I’d be looking at Metal Box or Album, I must include, on early expose at least, End of the World to be a contender for consideration.
PiL again show why they are still one of the best bands in the Punk landscape to this day. And, though he may not like to hear it, John Lydon is a bona-fide National Treasure and should be treated as one. More importantly, we need John’s music, his wit and his courage to stand for what he believes, whether you agree with him or not.