“This is a fucking amazing band,” says John Lydon of his bandmates in Public Image Ltd., or PiL, toward the end of Monday’s show.
Well, yes, they are actually, so let’s take a quick look at them before we talk about Lydon himself and the Monday night concert.
Drawn largely from a PiL lineup in the late 1980s, the modern incarnation of the band plays funky post-punk. They are well coordinated as a unit in a way few bands are and they sound great. Drummer Bruce Smith thunders and snaps through the show. New guy Scott Firth on bass is a key ingredient in the consistency of the post-punk sound. And guitarist Lu Edmonds? On one song, the man is playing a saz, a kind of long-necked lute. The next, he’s on a big guitar. Before you know it, he’s fiddling (literally) with a banjo.
And the three bandmates provide a key part of a pattern to many PiL songs vocally — if PiL can be said to have any sort of pattern. They occasionally sing a repeating chant, usually consisting of a song’s title or subtitle, building a harmonious chorus as a backdrop to Lydon’s wails, yelps and croaks.
This is my favorite post to write each year. There are many reasons why but the main one is that I love how it tasks me with reliving my year in music. I have re-read every review that I have written in the past year. I have thought about every show and every individual set that I have seen in 2010.* I have made numerous lists of the sets I have seen, and I have broken them down into categories to determine the best of the best in each. I always enjoy the concert-to-concert combat that rages in my memory as I try to boil down a year’s worth of experiences into a shortlist that best represents the year. I am equally surprised and proud to discover that this is the sixth year that I have completed this process of list making.
2010 may be the single best year of live music that I have experienced in my eighteen years of concert-going. Collectively the shows I have seen across the U.S. and in and around DC this year have provided me with more moments of music nirvana, pure aural bliss, then I ever imagined was possible. I often say I am on a life-long quest to attain music nirvana and 2010 is as close as I have come to discovering it in a sustained form. With a year this good, my usual challenging task of narrowing the field down to the 10 best concerts was more difficult than ever.**
“Somoza may be a son of a bitch, but he’s our son of a bitch.” – rumored FDR quote about Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza García.*
I couldn’t help but think of this quote as John Lydon aka Johnny Rotten aka “Uncle John” took the stage at the 9:30 Club on Wednesday night. Lydon is one of the ultimate love/hate figures in music history. For every brilliant stroke like the Sex Pistol’s ‘Bodies’ or PiL’s ‘Rise’ there is an equally hypocritical public statement or ticket price outrage to offend anew. So I was not very surprised when a lot of professed fans of Public Image Ltd balked at attending Wednesday night’s concert. After all it was over-priced and the quality of a reformed (not reunited) PiL was a huge question mark. Lydon has a lot of audacity expecting sold-out crowds 18 years after the band’s last performance or album, especially after the radically mixed reviews received for the Sex Pistols reunion tours of the late-90’s and mid-00’s. And yet there I stood with a club full of people anxiously waiting for Lydon to challenge us with his noisy, confrontational, anti-pop onslaught. As I stared at the giant PiL banner behind the stage and the growing crowd I thought, John Lydon is a son of a bitch, but (if you love his music) he’s our son of a bitch.
For me, with regard to bands, front-men, legends, and their egos, it boils down to music first, personality second. I worship the Sex Pistols and think that Public Image Ltd. was one of the most inspired and brilliant career/style shifts in music history. Lydon’s ego aside, I was on-board for this show from the get-go. My two-song preview of PiL at the Coachella Music Festival left me confident that Public Image Ltd.’s 9:30 Club show was going to be something special. I had no clue just how special this show would turn out to be.