Independent on Sunday, December 20th, 2009

© 2009 The Independent

Public Image Ltd
Birmingham, Academy, December 15 2009

Public Image Ltd

Even though John Lydon is flogging butter on the telly, his Public Image is above criticism. Reviewed by Simon Price

Old Man Steptoe leers over his lectern, and lectures. "Seventeen seconds, or 17 years. It will be worth the money. This is the band who taught all the other second-rate wankers out there how to play. I do apologise..."

He speaks the truth. In Public Image Ltd, John Lydon is in his element. During the last round of Pistols reunions, in his Rotten persona, he pointedly wore a PiL shirt on stage.

In 1977, while still a Sex Pistol first time round, Rotten amazed fans by appearing on Tommy Vance's Capital Radio show and choosing nothing but obscure reggae records. It was a hint of what was to come. Public Image Ltd broke punk's DNA wide open, unravelled the rainbow and reconnected it into new shapes, using deep dub and funk noir. Post-punk starts with PiL.

It would take a fusspot or a fool to complain about a band who, from the first "Hello, hello, hello!" to the climactic "Anger is an energy!" (in a set that's more than two hours long), are note-perfect. Highlights are "Poptones" ("Shame on you," he mocks. "It's a song about getting raped, and you're applauding"), the provocateur-funk of "This Is Not a Love Song", a rockin' "Annalisa", a surprise encore of Leftfield & Lydon's "Open Up" and a double-length "Flowers of Romance".

Even so, you're always waiting for a song to end, just to see what he'll say next. Lydon is the ultimate pop hero: a working-class autodidact with Celtic ginger hair, an intellectual (oh, how he'd spit at that term) who recognises the intellectual's duty to antagonise.

He never ducks that duty. Swigging Martell and gobbing it into an ice bucket like it's dentist's mouthwash, he puts one finger to his nostril and expels snot through the other. "Notice," he caws, "I spit away from other human beings. Something those silly punks who read The Sun got wrong."

While he's in the mood for setting the world to rights, lest anyone in the English Defence League misunderstand lyrics like "This is our country... we will never surrender", Lydon follows "Warrior" by stating, "Great Britain is a mixed country and we like it that way. The only people who have to leave are the politicians."

He cleverly sidesteps any "sell-out" heckles regarding his recent hawking of dairy products dressed as a British country sire. When his trousers start falling down past his skinny arse, he cackles, "Fackin' 'ell. All that butter, and I've still lost weight."


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