John Lydon (formerly Johnny Rotten) remains one of the most charismatic lead singers around. If he weren’t singing, I’m sure he could just as easily mesmerize a crowd with an evangelical church sermon or a motivational speech on the wonders of Amway. His unique voice is part Scottish opera singer, part graveled punk rocker but it’s his presence that draws you in.
I saw Lydon play with Public Image Limited (PiL) at Mill City Nights on Monday October 22, 2012. No opening band, which I appreciate on a school night. The band was scheduled to go on at 9:00; they were up and grooving by 9:15. Done with show by 11:00 and encore done by 11:15. Again, perfect for a school night.
The band started with “This is Not a Love Song.” It made us old folks happy but what delighted me even more was the wide range of music PiL played throughout the show and the audience’s reaction to the songs. When I see a band with a history like PiL play there are two worries. One, they’ll only play their old stuff or two, they’ll only play their new stuff. PiL struck a nice balance of both; the audience seemed to enjoy the new and old equally from “This is Not a Love Song” released in 1983 to “One Drop” released earlier this year.
There was a definite growing of intensity throughout the show. A couple of times Lydon seemed to chide the crowd for being too quiet—but then either we got louder or he seemed to recognize that this was life in Minnesota on a Monday with a less than sold out crowd. (I was surprised the crowd wasn’t larger—especially since I missed seeing them this summer in Dublin when I didn’t get my tickets early enough and they did sell out there.)
Lydon’s voice sounded great—again he has that wide range of almost shockingly shrill to the animal growl. Recently I’ve seen a slew of singers I haven’t seen since the 1980s (The Who, Stone Roses…) and I have to say Lydon’s vocals come out on top. The rest of the band were terrific as well. I see a lot of young bands so it’s fun to see a band with musicians who clearly bring a depth of musical influences and interests. Bruce Smith is unwavering with the drums. Scott Firth brings in his Jazz influence on the bass. (Did you know he played with the Spice Girls?) Lu Edmonds bring a flavor of world sound with guitar and a number of stringed instruments that frankly I couldn’t name.
Highlights include the Ska beat of “One Drop.” Who else can sing “We are the ageless / We are teenagers” at age 56 without sounding ridiculous? “Rise” was another crowd pleaser—saved for the encore. For those of us who still wish Lydon would throw in a Sex Pistols song or two, I think “Religion II” comes closest to the mark. Not necessarily in speed but it sentiment and again his persona just turns the message into a passion. I think I even heard a little Acid House influence in some of the songs, which is the benefit of a band that’s been around for a while.
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