PiL @ Marquee Theatre|10/30/12
"You all look so fucking happy!" Public Image, Ltd. frontman John Lydon called out the crowd about halfway through the band's Marquee Theatre performance. And he was right; the surprisingly small crowd was truly caught up in the moment because; well, simply because the music was so damn good.
Looking about it was unclear if the audience was expecting such a deeply satisfying performance. Perhaps word of Lydon's notorious temper and foul mood swings, his sneering looks and me against the world attitude might have put some off or on the defensive before the show even began. And yet, here was an audience grooving blissfully to the hypnotically deep bass lines, pulsing drums and stinging guitars. Lydon was clearly enjoying it too. Even when he tried to sneer, or sound crass--belying his former Johnny Rotten persona--he couldn't quite pull it off. This was a dance party; after all, Lydon's trashy punk days are far behind.
The band kicked things into high gear right from the start with "This is PiL," the title track from the band's latest album and "Deeper Water," also from the new release. Both songs carried a high octane blend of electronic dance rhythms washing over heavy bass and drums, "Albatross" followed with gritty, looping guitar lines from Lu Edmunds and, mixed with Scott Firth's bass and Bruce Smith's drumming, shook the body and rocked the soul. This extended number really set the crowd in motion and set the tone for the evening. It was one of the highlights of the two-hour performance.
While the band members mostly stayed in the background, Lydon was front and center. The vocalist began the night with a skinny blue tie over his otherwise black attire, but the old school admonishment was soon cast aside. It was interesting watching and hearing Lydon, never the most polished of singers, make the most of his limitations and trademark idiosyncrasies.
Rather than attempt to sing, Lydon instead shouted, chirped, chipped, roared, bellowed, and fluttered into the microphone. Considering the proliferation of dub-like rhythms, these often effected vocals carried well, and frequently--especially among his constant hand gestures--seemed operatic in nature. His familiar wavering vocal warble was well-received by the crowd, though did get tedious at times. And when he did attempt to actually carry a tune, which thankfully was only on a couple songs, he came off a little flat. Still, the crowd gave him an A for effort every time.
With the bass-heavy "One Drop" rounding out the opening four tracks, the new album could be left behind for more classic material, including a rousing rendition of "Friend or Foe," the militaristic pulsation of "Warrior," and "Religion," perhaps one of Lydon's most political numbers.
More than anything, the show was a non-stop groove that shifted from pulsing to driving to ethno-centric world pop to dub beyond reason. "We're having a bit of a good time up here," Lydon said as the encore approached. Truly, it showed in the inspired playing, particularly with Edmunds, who continually changed guitars while working in banjo (which he played with a violin bow) and the exotic sounding Turkish Baglama. "Out of the Woods" (back to the new album) opened the three song encore, followed by "Cruel." The crowd had thinned further by this point, but those who stayed were treated to a rousing finish--there was no easy letdown from PiL.
"Goodnight, and thanks for putting up with us," Lydon told the crowd as the final notes echoed around the theater. A relieved smile followed and it seemed Lydon was pretty happy with how the evening went too. Critic's Notebook:
Last Night: Public Image, Ltd. Marquee Theatre, Tempe
Personal bias: John Lydon is an iconic music figure that makes surprisingly good dance music--even if he can't really sing. The crowd: Many of Lydon's old fans from the '80s and '90s showed up, but some younger folks as well.
Random notebook dump: I feel trapped--gloriously so--in a world beat disco club funk EDM vibe that's way more dance than expected.
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Overheard: After the show about Lydon: "God bless him. He's an institution."