“It’s time to throw punk rock out the door and embrace middle age. The balcony it is, vertiginously positioned above the seething, balding mass below, pogoing and crowd surfing and acting as if tomorrow wasn’t a work day.” Dara Higgins reviews last Sunday’s PiL gig at The Button Factory. We arrive at 8.40, thinking that would be time enough. But no, as we’re queuing to get in, Albatross is already leaking out from the venue, and we’ve probably already missed This Is Not A Love Song, and there’s already only room to stand on the sticky floor next to the bar, craning a neck, acting as a buffer for every new arrival as they elbow their way into the throng. Fuck that, frankly. It’s time to throw punk rock out the door and embrace middle age. The balcony it is, vertiginously positioned above the seething, balding mass below, pogoing and crowd surfing and acting as if tomorrow wasn’t a work day.
This version of PiL have begun to look settled. Lu Edmonds plays his phenomenal array of stringed things, a 747’s cockpit of lights and pedals at his feet, Scoot Firth’s bass never sounds like it’s doing a poor pastiche of Wobble’s seemingly simple, always arresting lines and Bruce Smith, who tub-thumped for The Pop Group back in the day, is as solid as ever. Has a PiL ever lasted this long, un-riven by politics and inner strife? Perhaps the fact that the entire operation was founded on a cache of butter-flogging lucre means that the high ground ain’t so high any more. Whatever, it makes for a very good band, who play through the old stuff as if it were never old, and pepper the set with a smattering of tunes from the new record. But not too many. Lydon knows the debt he owes to his own past. After all, PiL were a primordially influential band. In the nascent post-punk swamp they crawled form the mire and used their new found legs to stride on ahead of all those helpless fishy fuckers, still using their gills to knock out the three chord, four-four, gob encrusted prole-rock that was even then sounding old. This version of PiL’s biggest influence is PiL, and rightly so.
There’s more energy in this show then there was at the Tripod gig last year. Not necessarily from the audience, despite Lydon accusing us all of having been “analytical” last time, but also from the man himself. He struts about the stage, dancing like someone’s dad, but spitting out those lyrics with a vigour lacking last time, despite it being a good show and all. The crowd meet him with equal force. The venue suits it all more, from my vantage point I can see that it’s teeming down there, tempestuous. The sweat runs down my face and I’m standing still. The air is close and hot and charged. All the hits get a go. Death Disco gets the first real catharsis of the night, Chant nearly matches it for the pure intensity coming off the stage. New boy One Drop gets respect, and, as with the other FNGs, Lollipop Opera, Reggie Song, fits neatly within the canon. But it’s on Rise where the crowd boil over, pointing, and shouting his words back at him. Although, they’re not really Lydon’s words, having cobbled them together from interviews with victims of police brutality during Apartheid. Never the less, they’re shouted back. He does a call and response thing. What is anger? Anger is an energy. It certainly is. I’d like to think that it’s more than that which powers this 56 year old, sweaty titted man before me, but I’m not sure. He still has a tongue on him, as the photographer told to sling his hook half way thorough will attest. “Either enjoy the show or fuck off”. Sound advice.