Public Image Ltd.’s 2012 U.S. tour, beginning with its first Florida appearances in 20 years, was supposed to begin this past Thursday in Orlando. But the show was cancelled due to complications with the band’s visas, which means that the appreciative crowd at Miami’s Grand Central last night was treated to the very first show of the tour. John Lydon, the only remaining member still touring as PiL, said between songs that he “still had a touch of the flu,” but that he had “the best mouthwash in the world,” referring to the large bottle of liquid he imbibed between songs and during instrumental breaks, which I assume was not root beer. He also regularly cleared his nasal passages onstage, like a habitual cokehead, but if the man formerly known as Johnny Rotten can’t do anything uncouth onstage, then what’s the world coming to?
Anyway, he certainly didn’t sound sick. His body revealed his age, but his voice didn’t: The vocal chords that British music writer Simon Reynolds once referred to as a “muezzin wail” still echo hauntingly through every crevasse in whatever club his music is decimating for the next two hours.
The band stormed out of the gate with “This is Not a Love Song,” tearing through one of their greatest hits like it was the first time they’d ever played it. This was followed by the panicked, foreboding “Deeper Water,” one of the best tracks from the band’s 2012 comeback album “This is PiL.” A rotation of classic hits and new material would follow and, because the new record is so faithfully beholden to the vintage PiL sound, it all flowed together like a brooding river of sonic darkness.
This was a difficult set of songs (though if you’ve seen previous set lists from PiL’s recent U.K. shows, you won’t be surprised much). Rather than focus on the easier, shorter, poppier material, Lydon plumbed the epic depths of his disturbing corpus, preferring to expand and honor his lengthiest songs. He resurrected the bludgeoning bass trance “Albatross,” a hypnotic dirge played with unhinged ferocity; every snare drum hit resounded like a shotgun blast, with Lydon howling the lyrics like a demonic lizard. Later, we got the crushingly loud twofer of “Bags/Chant,” a crushingly loud desiccation of music that plants traditional rock ‘n’ roll in its grave, along with the punk simplicity of Lydon’s founding band, the Sex Pistols. The set ended, perfectly, with “Religion” and “Religion II,” Lydon’s excoriating attacks on Christianity, with itheir unrelenting repetition of chords recalling the very best of fellow-postpunkers The Fall.
Grand Central’s acoustics remained as top-of-the-line as ever last night. Each instrument came through with vivid clarity and precision, including Lydon’s lyrics. And considering how much he drank last night, that’s really a complement. With the new PiL album being such an accomplished piece of work, here’s hoping another album will be in the works in the future, and that we don’t have two wait another two decades to see them again.
This is Not a Love Song
U.S.A. (I think? I didn’t know this song)
Out of the Woods
Open Up (Leftfield cover)