Public Image Ltd. – Live At The Crofoot
It’s Wednesday night at the Crofoot in Pontiac—a small venue great for the intimate exchange between artist and audience. Yet, this is a post-punk show and the sheer volume and sound pressure is making my head feel like it’s going to explode. And while the opening song may sound like a love song, it’s clearly not. This is Public Image Ltd. —and the show kicks off with “(This is Not a) Love Song.” And right away Johnny Rotten is talking to some people up in the right side balcony, telling them to move because the obscenities they are hurling are throwing him off. He makes eye contact with me during the first song, and it’s intense. I look away. He is not somebody I want to anger or throw off.
But despite his prickliness, Johnny tells the security team to respect the audience and that the audience will respect them back. Respect is a recurring theme that Johnny comes back to again and again over the course of the night. And even though he’s taking swigs of brandy between songs and even gargling with it, spitting on the stage because he has built up phlegm, he is fully engaged and putting on a great show. For somebody who has a reputation for not giving a fuck, he tells the crowd to loosen up and dance. He cares if we’re having a good time or not.
They play some PiL classics like, “Death Disco,” “Bags” and “Flowers of Romance.” When Johnny performs “Warrior” he sings it with the full conviction that he is a warrior. “I take no quarter… this is my land… I’ll never surrender… I am a warrior.” With a voice self-described as sounding like “a bag of kittens falling down a flight of stairs” it’s extremely powerful and anthemic. Then they play “Disappointed.” It has the chorus, “Disappointed a few people… when friendship reared its ugly head… disappointed a few people… well, isn’t that what friends are for?” After the song, Johnny says, “Your friends are worth forgiving.” It’s a personal statement to the crowd. I couldn’t help but wonder what kind of a friend Johnny Rotten, or should I say, John Lydon would be.
Of course Johnny has his political statements. He wouldn’t be being Johnny Rotten otherwise. He told off the record companies. He said Bush has done us in with his eight year reign. And he performed his song, “Religion” which points out the hypocrisy of having religions as money making machines.
They also perform the song, “Sun” where audience participation is mandatory. Johnny won’t accept no for an answer. He went on to say he needs us to clap or he can’t keep with the beat. So we all clap and sing along.
Then Johnny asks if we want the bass cranked up. Everybody starts cheering and clapping. So the bass is turned up to a level so high that it feels like a huge sound wave. The sound is deafening. My whole body is vibrating, as I’m standing about four feet from the stage. I heard somebody next to me say even his teeth were vibrating. One of my friends who has been to scores of concerts said at one point, “This is one of the louder shows I’ve been to.” That alone says volumes.
Soon the show appears to be over. So the crowd screams and cheers trying to get an encore. PiL delivers. The band returns and performs “Public Image.” And it’s during the encore that a mosh pit finally starts. The mosh pit puzzles me because these are young people. They weren’t even alive for the Sex Pistols or the punk scene in general. So why are they moshing? Hipster cred? The front of the crowd pushes back and forth in a huge undulating wave, and I do my best to not get elbowed in the face.
Then Johnny gets irritated that a bouncer is leaning right up against the stage. He points out that people didn’t come to the show to see that guy. He has a few choice words about this guy and calls for the Crofoot management to remove him. But, as soon as the bouncer leaves, people jump over the barricade and are right up against the stage. One person even has a metal cane that they wave dangerously close to Johnny.
So I’m in this mosh pit, fully aware that I have expensive camera equipment in my bag to protect. I get pushed around, but thankfully I don’t slip and fall on the drinks spilled all over the floor. I end up at the outer rim of the mosh pit where I don’t have such a clear view of the stage. Suddenly, one of my best friends spots me, grabs me, and pulls me near the stage just in time for “Rise.” Now that’s what friends are for.
I’m a bit concerned about the mosh pit during “Rise” because there’s a line in the song that is, “Anger is an energy…” and I wonder if the crowd is going to start getting angry, tapping into that energy. But it never happens. As far as mosh pits go, it ends up being fairly tame. Nobody gets maimed or injured. Then the show closes with, “Open Up.”
Public Image Ltd. really delivered, playing a full two hours. This was my first time seeing the band. I was born in 1981, so I missed the Sex Pistols entirely. Yet, Public Image Ltd. is a totally different thing than what the Sex Pistols were anyway. This is post punk, even pop punk. My friends and I talked with one guy who last saw Johnny Rotten when he was with the Sex Pistols. So the show had a totally different meaning for him. So while I can’t say how PiL compares to the Sex Pistols during a live show, I can say that I enjoyed what I saw and heard.
And Johnny Rotten is his own brand of entertainment. He’s a fun and unpredictable front man. A classic Johnny-ism from the show: “Not all pop stars are arseholes. Just most of them.” It’s worth the price of admission just to see him try to prove that point in his own raw and unapologetic way.