The Telegraph, December 22nd, 2009

© 2009 The Telegraph

Public Image Ltd
Brixton, Academy, December 21 2009

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Public Image Ltd. at the O2 Academy, Brixton, review

Public Image Ltd's gig at the O2 Academy Brixton began as a chastened affair but became something much greater. By Tim Burrows

Thirty minutes before John Lydon was due to appear on stage with his band, the reformed Public Image Ltd (PiL), the old Academy was not even half full.

The not-quite-sold-out show had fallen victim to sustained snow showers that wreaked the usual transport havoc in and around London. Yet the empty spaces seemed somehow apt: PiL was the vehicle that set Lydon free from the claustrophobia of the Sex Pistols and his Rotten persona, to wander dark, untended territory.

The group’s first line up started work 31 years ago when they played two sell out shows at the Rainbow Theatre in Lydon’s native Finsbury Park on Christmas Day and Boxing Day, 1978. Made up of Lydon and old friends Jah Wobble and Keith Levene on bass and guitar, they filtered punk paranoia through the techniques dub reggae and disco to create a post punk sound of ambient dread.

All those Christmases ago the crowd were a hostile mass — blood ran from Lydon’s face after a full can of beer was pelted at him. Not this time: “You are very quiet, London,” he said in his familiarly forbidding whine. “If I don’t receive applause in full and total appreciation I am never leaving this stage.” You feared Lydon might act upon this threat as he ploughed through a set that lasted over two hours, punctuating gaps between songs by glugging brandy from a bottle and showering it over the floor of the stage jet-like from his mouth.

Despite the legacy Lydon left to fashion, still evident today in his now traditional shock of hair and checked shirt and trousers, you could never accuse him of pandering to style over content. So it all went in. Tracks cherished by musos such as Death Disco, surely one of the only dancefloor-fillers around on the subject of terminal cancer, rubbed shoulders with later material such as the cheesey gospel rock of Disappointed.

Surprisingly, the finest moments came from PiL’s most difficult album, the paranoid Flowers of Romance. Both Four Enclosed Walls and the title track itself showcased the force of Lydon’s primal vibrato wail, to this day one of popular music’s true wonders, which filled the air over tribal drums.

The hall had been filling up steadily throughout the gig by those affected by transport. During Religion II, a monologue denouncing faith and corruption, the bass was turned up, shaking the venue. Ending with Rise and the techno collaboration with Leftfield, Open Up, what began as a chastened affair had swelled into something much greater. Even after two hours, Lydon, energised and bug-eyed, did not want to leave the stage.


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