Public Image Ltd–Live at Variety Playhouse

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In full disclosure, this isn’t a concert review but more of a collection of observations from a non-fan.  The offer of a free ticket was presented, so it was an opportunity for great Thai and some beers followed by a concert at my favorite Atlanta concert venue, starring none other than John Lydon, aka Johnny Rotten, who rose to fame as the lead singer of the Sex Pistols.

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I’m old enough to remember that band, at a time where “classic rock” was being challenged by disco and punk for a generation demanding something different.  To Lydon’s credit, his band would become significantly influential for bands that followed, even if less audacious.  After that band ended, he formed Public Image Ltd, or PiL, a chronologically accurate “post-punk” band, whose T-shirts and bumper stickers I’d seen but never given much attention. 

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Today, Lydon is a static figure on stage, limited to a narrow vocal range but with an abundant vibrato and perhaps some electronics for effect.  Based on the many gathered to hear him, it’s exactly what they expected.  For me, I don’t need to rush out to collect his music, but to give credit where it’s due, music has come a long way since guys had to sound like girls to make it in pop music, and Lydon’s five minutes of fame stretched far longer than most.   How that happened I’ll leave to the high-brow music writers, but I’d credit it to an audience tired of mainstream music or, more simply put, an antidote to, say, the Bee Gees.

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That said, the attitude and posturing that accompanied his music in his heydey is nowhere on show today.  Frequently peering to the stand to find the lyrics, it looks to me like another aging rock star, making a living because he earned his fans and because he still can.   That’s okay – there are numerous elders in rock that I see all the time; it works for artist and audience.  In this case… just not me.  But, the entreaty to join the group at the show was to say “You can check Johnny Rotten off your list…”  (implied: “…of aging rock celebrities before they pass away”).  Check.

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His guitarist was the focal point for me, Lu(natic) Edmonds.  First, just from appearances, should he need a change of career, he has a singular face that, with a few memorable lines, could have been a fan favorite in Game of Thrones.  He kind of catches the eye.  In addition to two guitars, he also played a “saz,” or more specifically, a Turkish baglama, (similar to a lute), only converted from acoustic to electric use (add perhaps fuzz pedals).  The instrument’s three strings were apparetnly tuned to G-D-A to allow a slide hit barre chords. The musician, the instrument’s appearance, and the sounds he made were the star of the show. 

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I enjoyed the music.  The lyrics I understood were simplistic, though often indecipherable, and it didn't’ seem to matter as the audience joined in frequently and gave tribute with the typical fist pumps.  For me, after a long travel day from Dallas and an unsettling landing amid Hurricane Michael on my return to Dallas, I opted out early into the encore to “enjoy” the weather and the drive home.

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Setlist:

  • Deeper Water
  • Memories
  • The Body
  • Disappointed
  • Warrior
  • The One
  • Corporate
  • Death Disco
  • Cruel
  • I’m Not Satisfied
  • Flowers of Romance
  • This is Not a Love Song
  • Rise

Encore:

  • Public Image
  • Open Up – Leftfield
  • Shoom


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