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Still angry after all these years: Lydon's energy burns bright

Lydon was still swearing when he finally got on stage this week, but his f-bombs to the crowd were given with love.

Show reviews

Public Image Ltd
Enmore Theatre, April 10

For all the accusations of his “selling out” in recent years – from making advertisements for butter in his native England to starring on reality-TV shows – when it comes to the music, John Lydon is still dedicated to the art.

So much so on this night, in fact, that when his band first got to a song that resembled a bona fide pop hit, about 45 minutes in, Disappointed fell a bit flat.

Up until that point, this version of Public Image Ltd, assembled four years ago after a 17-year hiatus, had been revelling in the kind of art-rock uneasy listening that always made them more fascinating, although not necessarily more enjoyable, than Lydon's old band the Sex Pistols.

Somewhat paunchy at 57 and with his spiked hair seemingly flicking Vs at you, the charismatic Lydon had been wailing and ranting through tunes from his past (including a long, hypnotic Albatross) and present (last year's Deeper Water and Reggie Song).

They bristled so excitingly alongside each other, with their meaty bass grooves, precise, driving drums (a comically botched ending to Memories aside) and evocative shards of guitar noise, it was hardly surprising something as simple as a conventionally structured pop song might, well, disappoint.


That didn't mean there was no place for the definitive anthems of the PiL canon, though, and when they finally came, at the end of the set and during the encore, they were electrifying.

The melancholic howl of This Is Not a Love Song and Public Image's new-wave march sounded as vital as they ever did, before Lydon revisited his Rotten old alter ego to snarl “anger is an energy” during Rise.

Despite its throbbing beat and storming hook, Open Up, Lydon's mid-'90s collaboration with Brit electronica supremos Leftfield, seemed a surprising choice to close a show that celebrated a band influential enough within its own parameters.

Then again, when one of the most notorious figures in rock history orders you to “make room for me”, per the song's chorus - and after sweetly admonishing the audience as "f---ing rubbish" for not singing along properly - you're probably not going to argue with him.

18 reviews