With funds derived from a recent TV commercial, Public Image Ltd is now touring for the first time in twenty years. And it speaks volumes about Public Image Ltd’s appeal that The Wonderstuff, themselves a highly respected band of yesteryear, seemed genuinely honoured to be in a supporting role. No surprise, perhaps, when you consider that on the previous evening PiL were playing second fiddle to none other than The Stone Roses.
On the subject of fiddles, had the rest of the band’s musicianship been anything less than excellent, the Wonderstuff’s beautiful and talented fiddler, Erica Nockall (resplendent, in a red dress) would have easily stolen the show. Certainly, from what I witnessed in numerous mobile phone screens, she was the most photographed musician of the evening. Luckily, Miles Hunt and co were brilliant enough to distract the audience from Ms Nockall for long enough to get everyone nodding and swaying with a razor sharp opening set that combined the bounce and swagger of the band’s heyday with some contemporary, nu-folk tweaks.
By the time Public Image Ltd took to the stage, the audience was suitably hyped. John Lydon stepped up to his lectern, and at least two hundred middle-aged punks punched the air, united by an exuberant cheer of post-punk solidarity.
Since their formation in the wake of The Sex Pistols the line-up of PiL has changed dramatically and one could argue that in the absence of its other two founding members, Jah Wobble and Keith Levene, PiL is now more of a solo project for John Lydon. The other PiL band members were uniformly excellent, but as their increasingly varied musical accompaniments veered between rhythmic electro-jazz, tribal-punk, alternative-pop and John uttered a series of heavily enunciated Jim Morrison-a-like diatribes, ten minute sermons, and long wailing calls to prayer, the set began to seem more like a strange form of avant garde performance art than actual music. Yet, when I looked around, everyone was dancing; and so, I realized, was I!
There is a very tribal quality to Public Image Ltd’s current sound - a collection of lyrical repetitions and wails, and bass, and drums, and other more exotic looking instrument which I was sadly unable to identify - and though the collective product of all of these elements was cacophonous as often as it was rapturous the overall experience was surprisingly good fun.