When I interviewed John Lydon last month he seemed to be wiser and more diplomatic than the reputation that preceded him. Despite the last decade not being kind to Lydon with various law suits preventing him from making music he strode onto the stage of Royale last night with that same sneer that has entertained and horrified many for the past 40 years. Lydon, who is a bit thicker in the middle and longer in the jowl, gave no evidence that the spunk that burns inside of him since his days as a Sex Pistol is dissipating anytime soon. His time being held back has seemed to give him a more positive strength and increased the size of that chip on his shoulder. Now that he is free to create he seems like he has to prove the fight was worth it.
From the opening salvo of “This Is Not A Love Song” his legendary snarl was in full effect. Flailing his body like an Evangelical Minister with a penchant for bad disco moves, preaching the word in what he declared “The PiL Zone”. He stated, “Everyone is friends in the PiL Zone…even Politicians” with that impish twinkle and crazed smile. The set list was a good mix of classic early stuff(Flowers Of Romance, Swan Lake) to cuts from the excellent new This Is PiL. The band turned the dark, moody “Albatross” from Second Edition into an almost rolling funk/blues groove that churned for nearly 10 minutes. During the 80’s favorite “Disappointed” Lydon emphasized every word to make sure every person got the message while slipping in the line “Friends are for forgiving” throughout. When the lopping bass line from “Religion” kicked in and he announced “Lock up your children, the Priests are coming” I both laughed and shuddered.(considering what Boston went through with the Catholic Priest Abuse scandal.)
The current PiL line up tightened and added the dance groove to all of the material. Pounding out a mix of Rock, Funk, and Dub as well as Middle Eastern flavors. Drummer Bruce Smith was the Anchor. Keeping it steady so bassist Scott Firth could wrap his rubbery bass lines around the beat. This created a nice palate for Lydon to spread his caterwauling and guitarist Lu Edmonds to splash reverb alien noise over it all. With his long hair and beard, Edmonds looked like a mad scientist torturing his guitars, making them wail and scream, almost making it seem like a duet between him and Lydon.
Lydon has proved he can take the slings and arrows of haters and lawyers and send it back tenfold. Listening to the collection of songs from the past three decades you could hear where U2, The Cure, System Of A Down and Deftones may have let the PiL worm into their brains.