'You never listen to a word that I say You only seen me
For the clothes that I wear
Or did the interest go so much deeper
It must have been
The colour of my hair.'
So sings Johnny Rotten (or somewhat-unlikely National Treasure John Lydon, to you) in Public Image Ltd's 1978 single, 'Public Image'. He was fighting against Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren, complaining that he was simply a figurehead to the group and that the interest in him was, literally, skin-deep. It's a fitting anthem for his subsequent band who, after a hiatus from 1993 to 2009, are back in form – and still looking good.
Speaking of 'looking good', a little, first, on the crowd. I must be the only person in the entire audience dressed as usual in vintage Laura Ashley, and feeling sartorially like a fish out of water. These are the original fans here – mostly men in black T-shirts and Doc Martens. I wonder, trying to console myself, if that isn't sort of the definition of punk – standing out from the crowd. No? No, you're right – I definitely look like a pillock.
Still, we're all here to enjoy the show, and The Beat, as warm-up, definitely make that happen. The Birmingham outfit are as tight and flamboyant as you'd hope, saxophones blasting through the dense layers of the band like a hole-punch through paper. Then, when Lydon and the rest of the band (guitarist Lu Edmonds dressed heroically in a waistcoat – that's commitment to your style, particularly when it's a glorious 26 degrees outside and the venue's packed) arrive on stage, the atmosphere changes. It's excited, sure, but is it also a little… hushed? Reverent? The band launch into 'Albatross', though in a shorter version than the original's ten minutes – and begin to build up that song's tundra of bleak, open soundscapes about them. Sure, Lydon is no longer the skinny 20-year-old frontman of his Sex Pistol days, razor-thin and snarling, but his voice is powerful and convincing. Next comes new single 'Double Trouble', domestic punk that is nonetheless both jubilant and edgy. In my opinion they could have spent a little less time over 'This is Not a Love Song', and there's a dangerous tinge of Status Quo to another new track, but with great performances throughout – including 'The Order of Death' and 'Swan Lake' – PiL offer an authentic and visceral experience.