Public Image Ltd Rock The OC For Fellow Gen Xers PiL Conclude North American Tour In Support of "The Public Image is Rotten" At The Observatory
SANTA ANA, CA- I glanced around the Observatory in Santa Ana, and the audience was filled with fellow Gen Xers, many dressed in cool band t-shirts and jeans. Southern California punk and goth Gen Xers are known for maintaining our cool edge well into our 40’s and 50’s, but we can no longer deny the fact that we are all in the throes of midlife. The crowd seemed very low-energy, and it was a Sunday night, so most people were probably dreading the commute to work on Monday morning, in the sprawling business park maze and fluorescent tube-lit cubicle hell that is Orange County.
PiL opened their set with “Deeper Water” from their 2012 album This is PiL. With no opening band or even a DJ playing genre-similar music to warm things up, it was a slow and cold start for them. I would have preferred something a tad more peppy like “Public Image” to kick things off, but they saved that for the encore. But, this particular audience needed a swift kick in the ass, so it’s not entirely PiL’s fault the energy was lacking.
From there, they smoothly transitioned into “Memories”, from 1979’s post-punk touchstone Metal Box. They played a variety of songs from their illustrious 40 year career, but it wasn’t until “This is Not a Love Song” that the crowd started to get more lively, and that was near the end of their set. They didn’t play “Careering” or “Chant”, but I am partial to their 1979 BBC John Peel session and their original line up. The current band are a tight unit of talented musicians and they sounded amazing nonetheless. Overall, it was a good show, but the combination of the setlist and the crowd left me with the sensation that something was missing. The show was finished by 10:35 pm. This was the final US stop on PiL’s 2018 North American tour.
John Lydon was more subdued than I’m accustomed to. He didn’t talk much or tell stories between songs like he’s done at other shows over the years. The only remotely political thing he said all night outside of his lyrics was, “Fuck the System” at the very end of the show, and I think everyone can agree with that sentiment. Earlier this year he was quoted as saying, “The only political opinion you should ever have is, ‘Look, they’re all cunts!’” A few weeks prior to this concert, there were photos of John shared around social media that some people found offensive. The photos showed him wearing a red “Make America Great Again” t-shirt, smoking a cigarette near a window of the venue he was playing that night in New Orleans, which was the first city on PiL’s 2018 North American tour. A few Facebook acquaintances were so disgusted by the images that they immediately put their concert tickets up for sale in protest. Even with the current political climate in the US, we have to remember that this is John Lydon. He says and does things just to fuck with people, and he always has. This has been his primary occupation since 1975. “Everything is done in fun and if we can’t take the piss out of each other, then we’ve got no life at all”, he said in an interview.
John’s voice has deepened with age. He can’t hit the high notes like he once could, but his voice is strong and still so deliciously and uniquely his own. He stood behind a sheet music stand wearing an untucked white dress shirt and tie, white vest, and loose-fitting black pants. His arm movements and facial expressions reminded me of an opera singer’s dramatic gesticulations. He was belting it out beautifully, and it was serious business… except every once in a while he’d put his finger to one nostril and shoot a snot rocket out of the other. What came out was a fine mist that spritzed down over a wide area of the stage. It reminded me of the green mist that wrestling personality The Great Kabuki would spray on his opponents on World Class Championship Wrestling back in the mid 1980’s. It was gross to watch, especially for hypochondriac germaphobes like me, but he is Johnny Rotten, and he is forgiven.
Their current world tour promotes the 2018 release of The Public Image is Rotten, a documentary film that gives a behind-the-scenes look at the band’s 40 year history. The release of this film coincides with the release of The Public Image is Rotten (Songs from the Heart), which is an extensive box set that contains their singles collection, B-sides, radio sessions, 12” mixes, unreleased mixes and tracks, a live concert from 1989 recorded at the Ritz in NYC, along with other rarities.
For screenings of The Public Image is Rotten please check the film’s website: https://thepublicimageisrotten.com/