With End Of The World released, the first new album in eight years from John Lydon with Public Image Ltd, they embarked on a new tour and proved that he is still just as striking, unconventional and captivating as the man and artist that once captivated his first audiences. The last show of the band’s UK leg in London saw Lydon comfortably alternating between aggression, emotion and provocation.
Public Image Ltd
O2 Forum Kentish Town, London – 30 September 2023
Words and Photography: Aggie Anthimidou
Lydon will always encapsulate the true spirit of punk rock, and people tonight are here for this as much as they are for the music.
Wearing a long pinstripe blazer, John Lydon walks onto the stage. He carries a lyric book, which he places on the stand in front of him, the image of a non-conventional preacher to his devoted followers. Lydon is about to take his audience through a show like no other and quickly sets the mood for the night.
He commands, in his trademark, direct way, that his audience refrains from using their phones to film the gig. Penge, from PiL’s new album End Of The World, kicks off the show, and Lydon is in truly top form.
Powerful, operatic vocals are giving way to prose. Anger is giving way to sentiment. This Is Not a Love Song, the band’s biggest commercial success, is gaining a strong reaction from Lydon’s mesmerised audience.
It looks like everybody is thrilled enough to just be in his presence tonight. With great theatricality, he wizzes through the setlist, which is a balanced mix from the latest album and older material masterfully narrated to gradually build up the energy.
His performance balances theatricality, drama and pain but, most importantly, honesty throughout. Maybe the spotlight is on Lydon, but Bruce Smith on bass and Lu Edmond’s guitar, both involved in the band in the ’80s, with Scott Firth on drums, put on a beautiful, edgy performance, giving a contemporary twist to the material.
Lydon addresses his audience. “I can see it in your eyes. Thank you for being here.” Drums take centre stage with Flowers Of Romance, an otherworldly blend of Middle Eastern melodies and almost primitive beats. It is thrilling to see PiL perform this live.
Lydon takes a short break before the final song of the set, Bloom, to give once more his honest view on his former Sex Pistols bandmates and their recent Generation Sex project.
He isn’t impressed by Idol’s interpretation of the Sex Pistols’ material, and he isn’t afraid to be outspoken about it. “Fuck you,” screams opening Bloom.
“We are taking a short break to consume combustibles,” Lydon says. “If you want more, give me a fuckin’ cheer!”. PiL comes back with Public Image, Open Up and Rise – a true highlight. “Anger is energy” perfectly sums up tonight’s show.
Lydon takes off his jacket and speaks to his people, “Took us a decade to be here, and a lot of things happened to all of us.” He continues to make a heartfelt dedication to his late wife, “his lovely Nora,” who passed earlier this year.
He is visibly emotional and tearful. “We will never give you up nor let you down. Peace,” he says before PiL leave the stage. Lydon may not perform Pistols songs live any more, but after tonight, you can’t really help but think that, in the words of Sex Pistols’ Sinatra cover, he really “did it his way.”
Kicking off the evening, Meryl Streek, an Irish avant-garde punk act, is the perfect opening to the evening. Mixing electro beats, a punk rock sound and raw honesty, Meryl Streek is launching a rageful attack against politicians, the media and religion, to name a few, while addressing current issues of homelessness, mental health and suicide in modern Ireland.
He is speaking the minds of many of his audience as the reception is high. By the end of his show, Meryl Streek not only prepped the way for the entry of Mr. Lydon but also gained a legion of new fans.