The headlining performance by Public Image Ltd. this past Friday night at Grand Central was, much the rest of the band’s output, concise and purposeful. With a previous show in Orlando canceled over a travel visa snafu, the Miami gig — the band’s first in some 20 years — served as the tour’s opening salvo. The group, still led by John Lydon (better known as Johnny Rotten) opted for a two-hour set that whizzed by with few frills or flourishes, but tight playing that almost sounded contemporary.
That meant no opening act, actually, and a performance that started promptly at 9:15 p.m. with a bang: “This is Not a Love Song,” one of PiL’s biggest hits, and one that would define the rest of the evening’s sound. If Lydon’s original breakout act, the Sex Pistols, was all about treble and distortion and getting in your face, PiL served as the inverse, hanging back in the pocket and hinging on the rhythm section and low end.
Drummer Bruce Smith, a former member of the Pop Group, kept things at once precise and loose, with just enough swing between beats. This meshed in proper funky fashion with Scott Firth’s bass-playing. Of course, with so much of PiL’s original sound defined by original bassist Jah Wobble, his absence disappointed, but Firth did a fine job filling in and keeping things moving. (Wobble hasn’t been a member of PiL since 1980, anyways).
Meanwhile guitarist Lu Edmonds, a one-time member of the Damned, wielded his axe almost surgically, his carefully strummed chords slicing through the air in effects-processed stabs. This was the real-deal, original angular guitar sound that informed so many post-punk revival acts of the last decade or so.
On top of all of this, of course, floated Lydon’s voice, still intact despite a receding bout of flu, “fanks to England,” he announced in his trademark London street snarl. “But I’ve got the best mouth wash in the world,” he continued, swigging from a bottle of whiskey to cheers from the audience. Still, this was about the extent of his stage patter — or, really, of pandering to his image — and he saved most of his energy for the songs themselves.
Lydon continues to impress with the range he coaxes out of his signature, piercing sing-talk, landing just outside of expected notes, trilling and wailing for dramatic effect. It was enough to command attention without much else — luckily, since Lydon limited his onstage antics mostly to the occasional fist-pumping dance between verses. Unlike some other contemporary acts, PiL’s music itself, full of snakey, intertwining grooves, proved enough to keep the show pulsing forward to its conclusion.
-”This is Not a Love Song”
-”Out of the Woods”
-”Open Up” (Leftfield cover)