Concert review: Never mind the buttocks! Johnny Rotten rocks on in Pittsburgh
November 13, 2015 9:58 AM
Nearing 60, John Lydon, a.k.a. Johnny Rotten, is still a few years off from burning out or fading away, and he proved that Thursday night.
By Scott Mervis / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
It's not every rock icon that walks on stage and tells you the state of his bowels.
"I've got diarrhea," John Lydon said, by way of introduction. “I hope the Imodium's working. Bear with me."
That revelation immediately lowered expectations for the Public Image Ltd. show at Altar Bar Thursday night, but the man most people know as Johnny Rotten lifted them again pretty quickly with "Double Trouble," a song, coincidentally, that begins with him hollering that "the toilet is broken again!"
As he explained in the recent interview, the one where he didn't hang up on me, the song is less about plumbing than about how marital spats over trifling matters can escalate into bigger things. And escalate he did, howling like he did as an angry youth, his rage taking on a different poignancy at 59.
You certainly feel like you’re in the presence of a deranged character, which has always been part of this working classic Brit’s appeal. Lydon, who popularized the undersized ripped T-shirt and spiky hair in the late '70s with the Sex Pistols, continues to push the fashion envelope, appearing in a loose-fitting striped outfit that made him look like The Joker having just fled the asylum.
Fortunately, the Imodium worked, along with a swig or two of a more common bar remedy from a bottle that gave him extra fortitude. “Never mind the buttocks,” as one follower tweeted.
Using a music stand with the lyrics, he railed up there through a 100-minute set that reached from PiL’s 1978 debut to this year’s “What the World Needs Now …,” including his twangtastic tribute to “Bettie Page.” Early-set highlights also included the PiL anti-establishment anthem “This is Not a Love Song,” just a few songs before the new “Corporate,” with its repetition of “murderer!”
Repeated lines over plodding grooves has always been PiL’s m.o., and when stacked together, it can get monotonous, as it did in the middle of the set, with songs like “Deeper Water” and “The One.” The monotony certainly didn’t weigh on Lydon, who went at every lyric with equal fervor.
At one point, when the applause between songs was perceived to be too brief, he said, “You know, you can be that quiet when you're dead … and if you follow my example that's a long way off!”
PiL is at its best when guitarist Lu Edmonds, who looks like a horror-movie pilgrim, is out front with a jagged riff, like on 1987’s “The Body,” one of the more ambiguous songs about pregnancy and abortion.
The Strip club was the perfect Altar for “Religion,” which felt like an exorcism with the cross projected high above the stage. It’s conceivable that Lydon has mellowed on a few things over the years.
The church, as we witnessed, is not one of them.
“Shoom,” from the current album, is a great new set-closer that declares everything to be “bollocks,” at least from the point of view of the crank at the end of the bar. PiL returned with its two “greatest hits”: guitar-driven signature song “Public Image,” in which he rails against his former group for not getting past his image, and “Rise,” a blessing sent out in his most generous spirit, with the chorus “may the road rise with you.”
If they had done those death polls way back then, and maybe they did, the volatile singer for the Sex Pistols would have been high on the list. At the very least, a creative death may have been in store. But the new album and this tour (even with a diarrhea show!) proves that at a near-60, Johnny Rotten is still a few years off from burning out or fading away.
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Scott Mervis: firstname.lastname@example.org; 412-263-2576. Twitter: @scottmervis_pg
PiL SET LIST:
Double Trouble Know Now This Is Not a Love Song Bettie Page Deeper Water Corporate Death Disco The One Disappointed The Body Warrior Religion Shoom Encore: Public Image Rise
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