Public Image Limited - Live in Philadelphia (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

Public Image Limited

Live in Philadelphia (2018)

live show

“So if it’s a white house, or a pink house, or a brown house… FUCK OFF!” howled John Lydon at the end of Public Image, Ltd’s Philadelphia show, just after “I’m working class, right from the start!” The exclamation punctuated the band’s extended encore which was a “Public Image”/”Open Up”/”Shoom” mega-mix and seemed to be Lydon’s response to the current accusation that he is a Trump supporter. While Lydon himself has explicitly stated that he is anti-Trump, in a bit of first wave punk provocation, he’s been spotted in “Make America Great” clothing. If you’ve even heard single side of any PIL album, it’s clear the guy wouldn’t support despots, but he’s come under fire from those who are quicker to start shouting attacks than they are to actually read into a situation, and honestly, not only does he appear to enjoy riling people up, but it may be the very thing he thrives on.

Case in point, the October 16, 2018 set at Philadelphia’s Union Transfer was not a serving of the band’s “Greatest hits” or most digestible tunes. Rather, PIL seemed to make it a point to come as out as hard as they could, alternatively mixing a good number of their most abrasive material with the band’s most turbo charged recent work. For his part, Lydon was as animated as ever, introducing the concert in a haughty voice as “Weeeeeelcome to our fortieth anniverrrrrsarrrrry…” before ripping into “Deeper Water.” His howl was as piercing as ever and Lydon made it a point to put his most powerful tool to work, extended PIL’s already howling refrains with his famous tremolo and bite. Earlier tines like “Death Disco” and “Flowers of Romance” were especially crushing, with Lydon and the band making the tunes as heavy and as damaging as ever, purposefully moving away from any pop tendencies and straight into crushing intensity.

Meanwhile, the PIL band – Bruce Smith, Lu Edmonds, and Scott Firth – have made it a point to focus on a Spartan strike. While PIL has had many incarnations, and while some of those have been very ornate, PIL live is now built from a backbone of hammering drums and rumbling bass. Almost approaching dub reggae levels of weight, the band moved with a thick rapidness in a sort of form of mean dance music. The thick rhythm section left plenty of space for Lu Edmonds to do his ting wherein he alternate piercing guitar strikes with clanking that made his sound like rusty slabs of metal being scraped against each other.

Lydon has never been one for too much nostalgia, so nearly 1/3 of the tracks came from reunion era PIL and as those songs were woven into the setlist, their rumbling strike permeated the other tracks. Even “Memories” and “Death Disco,” which were almost drone burners in their original form, were juiced up as energetic, but challenging numbers. “This is Not a Love Song” and “Rise” were saved for the end of the set proper, and served as a sort of balance to the previous 11 attacks. As an architect of punk, Lydon has often scoffed at those who followed in his wake, deeming them unoriginal and even copycats. It would be easy to write off his insults if PIL wasn’t so uncompromising and so unique. Lydon, who never seemed particularly attached to the term “punk,” has seemed to argue over the past 40 years that “punk” is strictly an attitude and not a single sound or lyrical tract, and the Philly PIL show, with Lydon’s maniac howls and the band’s pummeling sound, made the case for that in pretty much the best way anyone ever could.