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Public Image Ltd. burns white-hot
in Milwaukee

Public Image Ltd.
Pabst Theatre
Milwaukee, WI
April 30, 2010
Public Image Ltd. Public Image Ltd. Public Image Ltd.

Story by Tony Bonyata
Photos by Phil Bonyata

More than three decades after helping to define punk rock with his first band the Sex Pistols, and then (following their 1978 implosion) giving way to the early '80s post-punk movement with his band Public Image Ltd., John Lydon (aka Johnny Rotten from his Pistols' days) has some mighty long coattails to ride on. But his Milwaukee show last Friday with the reformed and rejuvenated PiL proved that he wasn't about to merely trounce out a nostalgic, oldies act for the 500 or so aging BrewCity punks and curiosity seekers that turned out.

While the pasty Lydon - clad in an oversized frock of a suit, black Doc Martins and spiky crow's nest sprouting atop his scalp - admittedly looked rather silly for a man in his mid 50s, his performance, along with PiL newcomer Scott Firth (bass & keyboards), Lu Edmonds (guitars) & Bruce Smith (drums) - both who have been with PiL since the mid-'80s - was not only riveting, but also filled with the unbridled power and spirit of the singer's rebellious youth. The quartet ripped into their 1983 UK hit "This Is Not A Love Song" and then proceeded to turn in a healthy number of songs from their highly- regarded album Second Edition from 1979 (originally titled Metal Box), such as the dub heavy "Albatross," "Poptones," "Memories" and "Death Disco" (aka "Swan Lake"). They also delivered a few of their better- known hits, including "Rise" (1986), "Disappointed" (1989) and their debut single from 1978 "Public Image." Many of these songs were performed with jaw-dropping dynamics and clenched-fisted dexterity between MVP Edmonds' edgy art-rock guitar attack, and Smith & Firth's rhythms that snaked from slinky trance-inducing dub to punky dance and perplexing math-rock. And then, of course, there was Mr. Lydon, whose signature spastic vocal yelps and snarls, along with his often cartoonish facial expressions and posturing, still strongly hinted at the danger and angst of his youthful past.

"It's better to burn out than to fade away," Neil Young once famously sang about Lydon killing off his alter-ego Johnny Rotten at the height of the Sex Pistols' career. And while Young's sentiment is surely true, Lydon's incendiary show with Public Image Ltd. - one that musically still sounds as relevent and futuristic as anything else out there today - proved that in the end it's even better to keep burning white-hot than to burn out at all.

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Public Image Ltd. Public Image Ltd. Public Image Ltd.
Public Image Ltd. Public Image Ltd.
Public Image Ltd. Public Image Ltd.
Public Image Ltd.

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