Nothing transforms feelings of isolation, guilt, shame, rage, and panic into joy like the best PiL music. It is the balm. So expectations were absurdly high for this, Public Image’s first show in the U.S. in eighteen years. Facing a typically tight-assed Angelenoid audience that was disproportionately afraid to dance and sing along (at least until “Rise,” played second to last), in downtown’s most sterile Vegasoid venue, Public Image actually exceeded my ridiculous, impossible expectations and moved me. They were outfuckingstanding. You should beg, borrow or steal to see them. This band is the core of the ’86 PiL, assembled for the Album tour (minus the late great John McGeoch)—that is, Lu Edmonds, also of the Mekons and once of the Damned, who switches (mid-song!) between electric guitar, electrified saz, keyboards, synthesizers, and—was it a melodica?—and Bruce Smith, who drummed with the Pop Group and the Slits and grins while he plays because it sounds so fucking good!!! New member Scott Firth swiftly retired his onus by ruining our pants with his gut-busting bass and electronix, which do justice to PiL’s grooves. Rotten was spirited, full-throated, gracious—he lives out here so called us his “neighbors,” said it was a show for “friends and family.” He worked hard, broke a sweat, sang his guts out, tortured his larynx with his hands. The old habits: ejecting jets of snot from each nostril, spitting (though never at the crowd), taking swigs from what looked like a bottle of brandy that were sometimes swallowed and sometimes sprayed out in clouds near the drums. The set: “This Is Not A Love Song,” “Poptones,” “Tie Me to the Length of That,” “Albatross,” “Death Disco,” an extended jam of “Flowers of Romance,” “Psychopath” from Lydon’s solo album, “Warrior” (which I never liked on record but came over enormous live), “USLS 1,” “Disappointed.” Lydon asked for a piss break, after which: “Religion,” “Bags” jammed into “Chant,” “Memories,” “Public Image,” another short break, then “Sun” also from the solo album, “Rise,” and Lydon’s 1993 collaboration with Leftfield, “Open Up” (“burn, Hollywood, burn”). Rotten’s asking for a couple breaks towards the end of the set was a refreshing alternative to the usual showbiz encore ritual.
A note to my purist friends who are disappointed that it isn’t the ’78-‘80 lineup: take a cold, sober look at what Keith Levene has been doing recently on Google Video and see if you would want to play with him. Brilliant guitarist for sure, but watch him play along with a Stone Temple Pilots single on the internet and see if it doesn’t have the same salutary effect on your nostalgia that saltpeter is said to have on the libido. How the mighty [Joe Young?—Ed.] have fallen. Yes, Wobble would be wonderful, but Scott Firth is wonderful—don’t blow it, go see them now, while we’re all still breathing air. Here’s hoping they make some new records. Arsenal!