Sunday, December 20, 2009

Old Rockers

I went to see the reformed Public Image Limited last night at Manchester Academy. They did a full 2 and a quarter hour set as advertised, started and finished on time, and Johnny Rotten (he seems to refer to himself as that, not John Lydon), was on fine form. I realised its the first time I've ever seen him live either as Sex Pistols or PIL. Public Image's original heyday was virtually over by the time I was getting into music, aged 14-15, in 1981-2. I remember "Flowers of Romance", their 3rd album, coming out and liking it even though it was clearly unlistenable! It's aged very well, of course, a unique uncompromising statement, that couldn't ever hope to have the influence of the earlier "Metal Box." By 1984 PIL were just another rock band and though "This is not a Love Song" and, later, "Rise", were student disco favourites,  I remember hearing an appallingly bloated live album, "Live in Tokyo", that a friend had bought and not been impressed. Be interesting to hear it again. In a world of the Cure, Killing Joke, SPK, Psychic TV, Cocteau Twins, the Fall and others, PIL seemed a minor player, and the Sex Pistols legacy, with its rockist songs, and cartoon-punk stylings never really appealed.

So, I'm there, watching Johnny Rotten for the first time, realising I've always had a lot of time for him, but that unlike 90% of the audience he never meant that much to me personally. Now, at a surprisingly young (and very sprightly) 53, he seems more than ever to be one of the timeless greats, a self-creation that can and did do anything he wanted. If PIL's music has its fair share of bombast and silliness at times, it also has a grandeur, a seriousness, and an intensity that I responded to last night. There was something in the air as the 70s turned into the 80s, and music was dark, serious and intense to reflect this. I now know that "Metal Box" in particular was a key influence on many of the bands I liked at the time. As the excellent post-punk history "Rip it up and start again" highlighted, the punks may have been style revolutionaries, but it was the post-punks who were the musical ones. I've often thought that pop music in all its many facets is a young man/woman's game - "Metal Box" was released when Rotten was 23. It's that period - from maybe 15-25 when musicians and songwriters seem to have their best ideas. I remember feeling older, and more "past it" in my mid 20s than at any time since, a sense of the moment passing. What's great about seeing PIL last night, 17 years after they last strutted the stage, is that sense that even if the best of Rotten's work creatively was done a quarter of a century or more ago, it's still part of him, still where his identity lies.

See the legends when they come to town, that's my motto. Finally catching up when Johnny Rotten, was nothing but a pleasure.


undeleted said...

Thanks for that Adrian, interesting read. Did you see me riding around on my high-horse outside the venue?

The Rise-era Lydon has a lot to answer for. Relegating the musicians to backing-band status killed it for me 20 odd years ago I'm afraid.

Both Wobble and, it turns out, Levene were up for doing new stuff as well as this tour. Having turned down that opportunity, for whatever reason, Lydon has condemned himself to has-been status as far as I'm concerned. Nothing wrong with nostalgia but it could have been so much more.

Glad you enjoyed the gig though!

Adrian Slatcher said...

As I said, not a band I'm any way precious about, so just enjoyed it for what it was. My brother in law desperately wanted to go, and I'm always happy to oblige (The Tubes, and Wire previously!).