Review and photographs by Kirsten Ferguson
From the opening notes of “This Is Not a Love Song,” Public Image Limited sounded surprisingly muscular. Frontman John Lydon (aka Johnny Rotten) took swigs from a bottle of Cognac and wore a petulant man-boy scowl as his band of gnarly-looking veterans ground out a relentless beat that stretched seamlessly into “Deeper Water,” a tension-building new song that captures the claustrophobic feeling of sinking far under water or being lost out to sea.
Much of PiL’s Upstate Concert Hall set was like that — dark and driving, with a band of immensely capable old hands (Bruce Smith of the Pop Group and the Slits on drums; Lu Edmonds of the Damned on guitar; and Scott Firth on bass) furrowing into an insistent groove that stretched from the bleak Metal Box-era “Albatross” to the free-form, monster exorcism that was “Religion” and “Religion II” (“Lock up your children, the priests are coming,” Lydon warned).
Lydon himself seemed in the zone — losing himself in the no-surrender “Warrior” and the metallic clang and foreboding dub of “Death Disco,” marching out a little tough-guy, stiff-armed dance and raising his arms wide as he let loose with his howling wail. In between songs he swilled his “five-star” Cognac, spat into a rubber spit bucket on the drum riser, indulged in an even grosser habit of expelling his nostrils onstage, and baited people in the crowd with lines like, “I’m here ‘cause nobody else fuckin’ loves ya.”
He’s a punk survivor, no doubt, who’s managed to retain a fairly youthful look — all spiky blonde hair and dimples — a not unimpressive feat given how many decades are past since his Sex Pistols bandmate Sid Vicious and other punk contemporaries have died. Some of the anger and menace was put-on, of course, or at least very expected. But when Lydon exhorted Firth — “Satan on the bass,” he called him — to crank up the bass to painful, stage-rattling levels as he wailed, “Do you pray to the Holy Ghost when you suck your host?” on “Religion II,” it truly was one of the more subversive things I’ve ever seen.
Excerpt from Brian McElhiney’s review at The Daily Gazette: “Each song the band played turned into an extended jam, with even Lydon getting in on the improvisational fury — new song ‘Deeper Water’ turned into a sludgy, dark groove-fest, while the slamming ‘Disappointed’ showed the group at its most furious and melodic at the same time. Other highlights included the militaristic march of ‘Warrior,’ with Lydon’s snarl echoing throughout the club, and main set closer ‘Religion,’ another chance for Lydon to spit out angry words at the rabid crowd. Best of all was the encore performance of ‘Rise,’ which was met with the loudest applause all evening. As the band once again stretched the song’s mechanistic groove into epic jam territory, Lydon got the crowd into a call-and-response chant on the line ‘Anger is an energy’ — quite appropriate given the onslaught the band had just unleashed. But there was a deep joy underlying all the punk fury in the group’s performance, which in the end made the show. It was clear from Lydon’s face, whether he was conducting his group through new rager ‘One Drop’ or laying back into the groove on the relatively gentle (for PiL, anyway) ‘Reggie Song,’ that he was enjoying himself. And why wouldn’t he be? After 20 years, PiL is finally a working band releasing new material again, and judging from this performance, they still have something to say.”
Leif Zurmuhlen’s photograph at Metroland
PUBLIC IMAGE LIMITED SET LIST
This Is Not a Love Song
Flowers of Romance
Out of the Woods
Open Up (Leftfield)