In the great national park of rock history, some landmarks stand immune to the ravages of time. Most of Keith Richards’s major organs for example. And certainly John Lydon’s larynx, a force of nature that has shifted the tectonic plates of said national park on more than one occasion.
Decades on from both scandalising and energising a nation with the Sex Pistols, and then casting his Johnny Rotten persona aside to plough a gleefully iconoclastic furrow – mostly with various incarnations of his band Public Image Ltd. – Lydon finds himself in probably the smallest venue he has seen in a while, rammed to the rafters and rapidly approaching the temperature of the Earth’s core.
On the road again with a reactivated PiL, the man and the voice remain commanding and caustic, all quavering wails and visceral howls. He and his band are relaxed in each other’s musical company, ex-Slits drummer Bruce Smith and Scott Firth on bass skilfully channel the monster dub/disco rhythms of classic PiL, while the maverick element comes from Lu Edmonds (slowly broiling beneath his waistcoat and beard). He switches between guitar and some kind of acoustic Bouzouki of Doom (the solid phalanx of excitable middle-aged male muscle filling the venue from wall to wall prevents me getting a close look) from which he coaxes overdriven sounds its makers never imagined.
Kicking off with Double Trouble from the new album, an epic This Is Not A Love Song is an early highlight, and the main set draws heavily on PiL’s recent output, throwing in Metal Box masterworks Poptones and Death Disco. When the band quit the stage suddenly, the crowd fear a rock’n’roll strop, but they are merely wringing pints of sweat out of their clothes before returning for more.
Religon is to Lydon what Meat Is Murder is to Morrissey, the engine room of his anger. Public Image and Rise are as huge and anthemic as you could wish for. Tonight, Fibbers’s audacious bid to secure a music legend paid off handsomely, Public Image Ltd., it seems, guarantee customer satisfaction.