By Chyrisse Tabone, Tampa Correspondent
Venue: State Theatre, St. Petersburg, Florida-November 6, 2015
I have to say I was ecstatic to see Public Image Ltd. (PIL) was coming to the U.S. on tour. It has not been since the late-1980s (maybe since their tour with INXS) that the band has toured here, spreading havoc with their brand of post-punk, new wave, reggae, experimental (whatever you want to call it) music. We called it New Wave back in the 1980s because essentially it was electronically influenced with a distinct dance beat. I never had the opportunity to see them—either no money, working, or whatever, so this was a big deal for me.
Public Image Ltd., fronted by the bombastic John Lydon (formerly known as Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols), was started in approximately 1979 and had a string of hits in the 1980s, then disappeared from the radar in the early-1990s. Around 2009, John Lydon decided it was time to reform the band with drummer Bruce Smith (he joined the band in the 1980s) and add other “old school” punkers Lu Edmonds (The Damned, The Mekons) and bassist Scott Firth. Public Image Ltd. then produced an album This is PIL (2012) and this year released What the World Needs Now (2015).
Rock At Night caught PIL at the State Theatre, St. Petersburg, Florida for what became one of the most fun and memorable concerts this year. The minimalist stage had mega-sized amps and a drum kit. Near the drum kit were several bottles of water, a glass bottle of booze, and a large plastic-lined garbage pail. A heavy duty music stand with papers sat neck to a standing microphone stand. The stage was dimly lit except for a spotlight and occasional colored lighted.
There was no warm-up band for the evening since PIL was the main attraction. The venue was actually jam-packed with mostly men in their 40s and 50s sporting the typical shaved head look and wearing horn rimmed glasses. There were a few guys lucky enough to have a full head of hair spiked into the familiar punk look.
John Lydon approached the microphone stand wearing a large loose-fitting (it is nice to be comfy on stage) black and white striped jailbird or institutional outfit. His hair was blond and not bright orange-red like the old days when he resembled James Holmes, the Colorado killer. Look at old photos of him with his eyes bugged and see what I mean.
Lydon stood at the microphone and started belting “Double Trouble”, a recent single from the latest release. With his songs, there are spoken words mixed with singing, which is heavy on the reverb and operatic at times. He enunciates words like “corporate-tttt” with the distinction of an actor. He often trills, hits his throat to create vibration noises (“The One”), all the while motioning with his arms like a conductor or actor giving a soliloquy. He danced and jiggled.I could not keep my eyes off of him.
The music was synth-filled and laden with heavy guitars and bass riffs. The musicians were all excellent. The best, really. Even guitarist Lu Edmonds brought out an electric saz to play on a couple of songs. Scott Firth was a wildman on the bass and even brought out an electric stand-up bass that was really just the neck. It was hard not to “bust-a-move” as people (although sedate due to being squished in the room) were dancing from the waist down. I was holding my camera, dancing, and head bobbing the entire evening (except when the security guard kept hassling me “Ma’am, you are stepping over the line…ma’am). I remember this clown from a festival earlier in the year where he was badgering everybody on the sidewalk as they walked).
During the evening, Lydon would walk to the drum riser and drink his bottled water, chug some of the booze, gargle, and spit into the trash can. I think he might have spit on the floor once. Hey! Who knows? Maybe he had a cold? I was cool with it as long as it remained on the stage and not pointed at the audience.
PIL played a few songs from their recent albums like “Corporate”, “The One” and a lot from the 70s/80s hey day like “The Body”, “This Is Not a Love Song”. Lydon kept saying he was playing “rebel music” and his music, even the older songs, are very relevant today. Another highlight was “Religion” with lyrics like This is religion and Jesus Christ/this is religon cheaply priced/This is bibles full of libel.. made me afraid the American Taliban was going to yank him off the stage. I-LOVE-IT. We need a band like PIL to shake up things!
Two of the encore songs were “Public Image” and “Rise”, which is a classic about Nelson Mandela. The audience was singing the lyrics with (and for) Lydon…I could be wrong…I could be right.
Love him or hate him, Lydon and PIL are original. Whether Lydon is singing about a broken toilet (“Double Trouble”), abortion (“The Body”), or corporatism (“Corporate”), he is here to shake things up.
Double Trouble, This Is Not A Love Song, Deeper Water, Bettie Page, Corporate, Death Disco, The One, Disappointed, The Boyd, Warrior, Out of the Woods, Religion and ENCORE: Public Image, Rise
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I grew up in a household full of rock music, studied journalism in college, and then became a scientist.Although my science career has served me well, music has always played a major role in my life. I grew up reading "Creem" magazine; I play several musical instruments as a "hobby";and it seems a camera has always been in my hand. Now, I am combining what I love the most--music and photography--serving as editor of Rock At Night. My motto: life is short...no regrets. Chyrisse