herald

Tuesday 14 August 2018

Prepare to witness a true original at work

A mere 32 years after they were to make their Dublin debut at the 24-hour Dark Space event in the Project Arts Centre, the city finally gets the chance to see Public Image Limited in the flesh.

Formed in 1978 after he left the Sex Pistols, PiL saw John Lydon reclaim his own name and give full vent to a wide-ranging musical ambition.

With former Clash guitarist Keith Levene contributing glistening waterfalls of guitar and Jah Wobble anchoring things on bass, the group's self-titled debut single was a strident call to arms. Lydon's impassioned howl of release with the band powering along behind him was close enough to the spirit of 1978 to drag Pistols fans along and give the band a Top 10 single but the album was a different story altogether.

Lydon made it quite clear that he was his own man, a statement nailed home with 1979's Metal Box. This was experimental music in every sense, perhaps best exemplified on Death Disco, a weird mash-up of motorik drums and bass on top of which Levene played a mutant variant of the main theme from Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake as Lydon sang in a banshee-like wail about the recent death of his mother.

While Lydon continued to push boundaries on the acoustic-based Flowers of Romance, Wobble and Levene jumped ship, leaving the frontman and a bunch of session musicians to deliver the more conventional-sounding This is Not a Love Song and going Top 5 in the process.

Never was Lydon's eclectic approach to music better exemplified than on 1986's Album. If in the heyday of punk you'd have told me that within a decade Johnny Rotten would record an album with former Cream drummer Ginger Baker, heavy metal guitar virtuoso Steve Vai, Yellow Magic Orchestra keyboards genius Ryuichi Sakamoto with Ravi Shankar on sitar and violin, I'd have wondered what drugs you were on. But it worked, with the lead single Rise -- its refrain of 'May the road rise with you' reflecting Lydon's Irish background -- arguably PiL's greatest achievement.

In 1993, Lydon's scabrous vocal on Leftfield's Open Up, with its hookline 'Burn, Hollywood, Burn', coincided with the LA riots sending scared radio programmers running for cover.

He may have seemed neutered doing butter ads, appearing on I'm a Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here and been cartoonish during the Sex Pistols reunions but at the centre of the maelstrom of Public Image Limited, Lydon looks truly at home and one of the most vital rock frontmen ever.

Public Image Limited play TriPod tomorrow night

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