Monday, November 16, 2015

Public Image Ltd. at the PlayStation Theater

John Lydon
In 1975 London, England, manager Malcolm McLaren was impressed by John Lydon's image and fashion style. McLaren invited Lydon to become the singer of the newly-formed Sex Pistols. Renamed Johnny Rotten, Lydon subsequently became the poster boy of the punk movement. The Sex Pistols disintegrated in 1978 and Lydon formed the more experimental Public Image Ltd. (PiL), which recorded eight albums under various line-ups and then went on hiatus in 1992. In subsequent years, Lydon performed in several Sex Pistols reunions, hosted television shows in the UK, US, and Belgium, wrote two autobiographies, and recorded a solo album. Lydon resurrected Public Image Ltd. in 2009 and recorded two more albums. The band's 10th album, What the World Needs Now..., was released on September 4, 2015.

In 1981, Public Image Ltd.'s first New York concert at the Ritz nearly caused a riot when the band performed new improvisational material live behind a projection screen while the band's albums played simultaneously through the speakers. Lydon taunted the audience from behind the screen and the public responded by throwing bottles at the screen. Tonight's two-hour performance at the PlayStation Theater was tame in comparison. Lydon turns 60 in January, and he looks like he is double the weight of his bad boy days of 35 years ago. Still spikey-haired, he wore two earrings in each ear and a black-and-white-striped prison-styled pants and top, partly decorated with safety pins. Instead of the snarl from ages ago, he frequently sucked his upper lip into his lower lip. Half of the set was comprised of newer songs and half were older songs given a new twist. Guitarist Lu Edmonds, bassist Scott Firth and drummer Bruce Smith hit on a funk or dub reggae groove, and Lydon sang his lyrics, barely moving away from his microphone and sheet music stands. He frequently became Patti Smith, extending many songs with what seemed to be stream-of-consciousness lyrics and acerbic social commentary. The uneven set shifted between the angry passion of Lydon and Edmonds' interplay and languishing tedium from repetitive trance-like rhythms. PiL's magnet was the legendary Johnny Rotten, even as Lydon these days evolves more into poet than performer.

Visit Public Image Ltd. at