Public Image Limited – Coventry Kasbah 31/05/11

“Oh my god! What have they done to the main hall?! It NEVER looks this good!”

I’ve just been told I have to pay an extra fiver at the door to get in. Having heard the lone female voice exclaim her alarm from inside the venue, and having been looking forward to this night for months, I quickly pay up anyway and edge inside. The main hall is all in shadow, an industrial gothic gloom cascading over a predictably middle-aged audience who were already on the booze. I pick my space three rows from the front, beneath a giant PiL logo. After doing a state of butter adverts in the late 2000s, John Lydon (A.K.A ‘Johnny Rotten’) reformed his old post-punk band to do a spout of recent reunion tours – a group that some consider to be one of the best alternative bands of the 1980s.

Much to my surprise, it’s only forty minutes later that Public Image Limited themselves enter onto the stage – no warm-up band to speak of. Johnny Rotten of Sex Pistols fame enters onto the stage with his crew, one of whom is the spitting image of Fleetwood Mac. There is much applause, yet over all the high spirits one man is able to shout out above the rest.

“Johnny! John-ay! John-ay! Johnny Johnny!”

The singer drops a flat expression to the awaiting crowd.

“You know its funny… we play gigs all over the UK, and every night at every gig, in the audience there is always one tit!”

Johnny Rotten stares at the drunk man with well-humoured, if slightly crazed, eyes.

“Congratulations! Tonight, YOU’RE IT!”

His entrance secured, Johnny takes PiL straight into it. Public Image is the opening song, followed by a free-styled version of Albatross.  For the first twenty minutes, Johnny Rotten appears to be struggling. His aging band are still having a whale of a time playing their riffs, but Rotten seems to have difficulty hitting the high notes. However, after the opening two songs, he settles into the gig, and you can see the glimpse of the ‘godfather of punk’ that’d we’d all expected to see, come back into full bloom.

Much to my surprise, This Is Not A Love Song is actually their third song, despite being a tune you’d expect more at the encore. The hit eighties single puts everyone in a good mood, and from then on the set list plows through a stream of alternative electro punk from a bygone era. It’s pretty much all there – from the rendition of Swan Lake from Tchaikovsky’s legendary ballet suite, to Disappointed and Warrior from PiL’s later albums. The industrial beats, despite their age, are giving everyone in the room some serious bass. It’s not long before the shy head banging turns into proper ‘moshing’ down at the front, with only occasional drunkards dropping down to spoil the show from time to time. The only notable songs missing from the set list are Seatlle and Fat Chance Hotel – the latter being a song I had really hoped they’d played.

Half way through, the Kasbah security decide to add their own laser display to accompany proceedings, singling out everyone in the audience possessing a camera with a laser, to guide other personnel to their location. It doesn’t stop anybody – everyone just becomes more discreet. Whilst the guard on the balcony plays ‘pretend sniper’ with his laser pen, down in the crowd no one could care less. Several youngsters appear alongside me, demonstrating the importance of ’14+’ gigs – as usual at gigs like these, the older generations are more rowdy than the younger ones.

The music hits all the right notes. The complex mix of industrial ‘punk dance’ is pulled off with aplomb, with most songs being improvised. This did mean that some songs went on slightly too long I felt – I’m sure one song clocked in at around fifteen minutes. However, at the times when the songs connected the least, I did feel a certain emotional experience, looking at John Lydon in front of me, and being transported back to the 1970s in the Manchester music scene, doing the same as Ian Curtis and Mick Hucknall before me. Whichever way you look at it, everyone was in the presence of a music legend, and a true icon of the 20th century who revolutionized music forever.

PiL leave the stage abruptly, but of course return for an encore that features perhaps their most well-known song Rise, getting the audience chanting ‘anger is an energy!’ in perfect synchronicity. The last song is a remix of Lydon’s collaboration with the Chemical Brothers – Open Up. The audience seem to know this is definitely the finale, and all of the sudden synonymously  just think ‘sod it’. The mosh pit engulfs the entire front half of the main hall. Beer flies all over the place. Sweaty middle aged men relive their younger years alongside a few other youngsters as everyone shoves and jumps all over the dance floor. The grinding industrial tune is the closing song, leaving Johnny Rotten to simply thank the audience and wave goodbye.

At one point in the gig, John called his music ‘disgusting garbage’ – with a sense of ironic humour, naturally. Generally, the quality of music was of a very high standard throughout. The gig gets extra points for having no warm-up band – the whole experience went a lot smoother and quicker than I expected. The atmosphere was definitely ‘underground’ – it was a feeling I’ve not experienced in a long time, and has been sorely missed. Considering my last concert was Paramore, and my last great gig was Gary Numan, this has been a long time coming. Down and dirty in Kasbah, this was also my first gig in the main hall – it was nice to have a change from the rather claustrophobic side room. My only criticism was that some songs had dated worse than others, and unfortunately these tended to be the songs that lasted over ten minutes. Still, the good vastly outweighed the not-so-good, leading to a memorable night, and probably the best gig I’ve been to at the Kasbah thus far. It’s certainly an acquired taste, but for those into their ‘experimental’ and their ‘underground’, this is an experience not to be missed.




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