London Evening Standard, December 22nd, 2009

© 2009 Evening Standard

Public Image Ltd
Brixton, Academy, December 21 2009

* * * *

By John Aizlewood

Who'd have thought it? Johnny Rotten, the sneering, shocking Sex Pistol, is well on the way to national treasurehood, via — of all things — an advertisement for butter which even the most grinch-like of souls couldn’t help but love.

The nation, though, has never quite taken to the man’s music as much as to the man himself. Take Public Image Limited, formed in 1978 after John Lydon had reclaimed his birth name. Their beguiling, keeningly intelligent mix of dub bass, tribal drums, krautrock guitar and keyboards, plus Lydon’s disconcerting drawl, set the template for the outer limits of the Radiohead and Coldplay catalogues and the post-rock genre. However, when Lydon split them in 1992, none of their eight albums had reached the top 10.

Seventeen years later, the public remain wary (gigs tonight and tomorrow are at the significantly smaller Electric Ballroom), but despite the embarrassment of walking out of I’m A Celebrity ... Get Me Out Of Here!, plus a feeble solo career which even Lydon himself didn’t seem to notice, he remains a law unto himself, a contrary, immensely watchable pop totem.

Bloated in recent years, Lydon has slimmed down and age has brought the 53-year-old new vocal richness. Signs of softness crept in: there was a pledge that any ticket-holder the weather prevented from attending would find their tickets honoured tomorrow; there was the occasional “thank you” and, most surprising of all, there was an instigation of mass handclapping during Sun. Reassuringly, the acerbic wit remains constant: “You’re a bit quiet,” he chided. “I hope that’s in total appreciation. It had fucking better be.”

This may have been an exercise in nostalgia but Lydon’s timeless, cussed originality won through. How Death Disco, a blend of primal howling of the imminent demise of a parent and Swan Lake, managed to grace Top Of The Pops remains a delicious mystery.

Elsewhere, Lydon sculpted his back catalogue with laudable care to detail over an absorbing two hours. Once a nippy piece of percussive whimsy, Flowers Of Romance was wonderfully transformed into an epic, thrilling 10-minute shanty. Both Rise, a heroic This Is Not A Love Song and Disappointed reminded us he can do pop, and the floor-shaking bass on Religion II almost made my teeth fall out. Perhaps the music does match the man after all.

(Public Image Limited play the Electric Ballroom tonight and tomorrow 0844 576 5483).


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