Public Image LTD
Grand Central, Miami
Friday, October 5, 2012
Better Than: Getting pooped on.
The opportunity to see one of the originators of punk-rock iconoclasm perform in an intimate setting is a rare one indeed. However, Miami was treated to just such an experience on Friday night courtesy of former Sex Pistols ringleader John Lydon (AKA Johnny Rotten) and his post-punk group Public Image LTD.
It would be rather shortsighted of us not to acknowledge that Public Image LTD's impact might very well be equal to that of Lydon's earlier, more famous group. To reference the band only via Lydon's "Rotten" stint is a bit of an insult to PiL's own body of work. After all, Lydon and LTD is arguably the quintessential post-punk band.
As fans filed into the club according to Miami standard time (i.e. way late), Lydon and company snot-rocketed right into their set around 9:15 p.m. The stage was decked-out in the now familiar red-rope netting that provided the cover art for the band's AliFE live release, and things started strongly with the hypnotic bass and vocal warbling of the PiL classic "This Is Not a Love Song."
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PiL has been through as many lineup swaps as you'd expect of a group led by someone with Lydon's tendencies. But the now (moderately) stable group features the familiar faces of Bruce Smith (the Pop Group) on drums and multi-instrumentalist/Rasputin look-alike Lu Edmonds on guitar/electric baglama/cümbüs. And the band's hallmark thumping rhythm section was rounded out by bass beast Scott Firth, who has previously performed with artists like the Spice Girls, Morcheeba, and Elvis Costello.
The crowd swelled and danced in place to the hypnotic "Warrior" as Lydon's bellows and barks echoed and intertwined with Edmonds's otherworldly sounding stabs of delayed and effected guitar. The PiL frontman was in good spirits despite having "a touch of the flu thanks to old England," which he tended to with a bottle of liquor between songs. Banter was pretty minimal considering Lydon's love of shit-talk, however he kept things to a joke or two about Miami's nightlife and a short diatribe about the potential danger of a Romney win in the upcoming presidential election, which served as a segue-way to "U.S.L.S. 1."
Though Lydon's ridiculous dancing, warble-yelling, and generally commanding performance was a sight to behold, Lu Edmonds's playing was a major focal point of the set. Making pained and surprised faces, he gently attacked the strings, always treating the instrument as though it could explode with even the slightest wrong touch. Whether it was a vintage Grestch guitar or his bastardized and electrified version of the baglama, Edmonds finds a way to pull astonishingly unique sounds from whatever bits of wood and wire he had in his hands. At one point toward the end of the set, following an introduction as Jesus Christ himself by Lydon, Edmonds attacked the strings of a guitar with a child's spinning light-up toy. And somehow, despite all logic, it was still musical.
Lydon led his band off the stage rather early in the evening, making a mock exit that disappointed the crowd enough to inspire the group's return and the song "Out of the Woods," a track from PiL's first studio release in 20 years. However, the highlight of the night was undoubtedly "Rise," which had even the stodgiest of audience members singing along, dancing about, or some combination of the two. The repetitive shout chorus -- "Anger is an energy" -- saw the audience swaying around the room and shouting into the mike that Lydon dangled overhead at the end of a stand.
Alas, the only thing missing from the set was perhaps an encore rollick through "Public Image," though we certainly understand the indisputable punkiness of not playing your band's trademark song.
Public Image LTD's Setlist
-"This Is Not a Love Song"
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-"Out of the Woods"