Public Image Ltd. at Mill City Nights, 10/22/12

Public Image Ltd. at Mill City Nights, 10/22/12
Photo By Paul Heartfield

Public Image Ltd.
Mill City Nights, Minneapolis
Monday, October 22, 2012

It's funny how some bands surface at a particular time and are always associated with that time, while others surface and manage to transcend it and stay timeless in a way. Public Image Ltd. falls squarely into the latter category, and have almost managed to fully free themselves of the bonds of time. Monday at Mill City Nights, John Lydon and company made a fair case for that as well.

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Slideshow: Public Image Ltd. at Mill City Nights, 10/22/12

Opening with "This is Not a Love Song" from 1984's This Is What You Want...This Is What You Get, it was surprising how fresh it still felt and that feeling continued throughout the night. The songs never sounded like any particular era, they only sounded like PiL, a feat that is an absolute marvel. They continued with "Deeper Water" from the new This Is PiL, and album that, after a 17-year hiatus, finds them in much the same realm as they've always been: pushing the envelope while pretending they're not, the repetitive lyrics somehow becoming more enticing with each utterance, the loopy arrangements sounding new with each pass.

The songs being arranged as they are, full of repetition and few lyrics, allows for some sleight of hand onstage however: they can drag the songs out for as long as they want ("Deeper Water", just over six minutes on record, was stretched to at least ten on Monday night.), and thus have to play fewer songs for the same paycheck.

This isn't a knock, this is genius from a man who once blatantly stole money from a record company in a manner that provided no recourse for the label, and famously asked a San Francisco crowd, "Ever get the feeling you've been cheated?" before walking off stage mere seconds into a show. They played for nearly two-and-a-half hours on Monday and only played maybe fifteen songs total, but it's safe to say few, if any, people felt cheated at all.

PiL's third offering, "Albatross" found them really settling in. Lydon seemed confused by the ultra-Minnesotan crowd (read: having a good time but looking excessively stoic), at one point grousing, "Good evening and thank you for putting up with us," to much laughter from the crowd--which, for Lydon, seemed to unlock what was happening crowd-wise.

They continued along with a couple more songs, Lydon--very obviously but somehow charmingly--reading lyrics from a stand in front of him before breaking into an again-drawn out version of "Disappointed" from 1989's 9, that proved to be one of the night's highlights. They followed with, among a couple of others, "Warrior," "Reggie Song" and "Bags," with Lydon chanting "Black rubber bags" in a manner that seemed like his voice could reduce a mountain to a pile of sand. They ended with a 12-minute-plus version of "Religion," with Lydon asking for the bass to be turned up to a deafening roar about halfway through, between his repeated cries of "Lock up your children, the priests are coming!"

And the encore put a nice stamp on what was shaping up to be a decidedly real evening with someone who seems almost a thing of fiction--a legend told to children to scare them away from doing who-knows-what, really, but the story would definitely have it's desired effect--and Lydon would just love that.

It began with "Out of the Woods" from their new one and continued with a fantastic version of "Rise" from 1986's Album--their biggest hit to date and the lone song to which the entire crowd sang along, with Lydon at one point simply hanging his mic over the crowd to belt "Anger is an energy" over and over as loudly as they could. The set finally came to a close with a cover of Lydon's techno-infused outfit Leftfield's "Open Up" which was as fitting a way to end the night as any, really.

Lydon is still building his legend even though it is already set in stone, and at 56 years old still has the demeanor he had in his days with the Sex Pistols: confrontational, intelligent, with a sharp wit and a sharp tongue. Monday's crowd saw what previously seemed like a character from a Philip K. Dick novel in the flesh, and he lived up to every word that had been spoken preceding his arrival. It's not too often that happens.

Critic's Bias: Seeing John Lydon in the flesh has been a goal of mine for years. I wasn't as starstruck as I thought I might be, and he behaved exactly how I had pictured he would.

The Crowd: Old enough that some of them could have conceivably seen a Sex Pistols show.

Overheard in the Crowd: "Do you think anyone would notice if I climbed that rope ladder thing at the back of the stage? Because I really want to."

Random Notebook Dump: In a lot of ways, PiL is more punk than the Sex Pistols ever were.

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