PiL London Indigo O2 07 June 2016
“I don't fancy AC/DC as it'll be raining”. That's the way I wanna rock'n'roll. That's the kind of text messages I send now I'm in my forties.
A summer Saturday in the south, and the choice is discernable. PiL to around 1,000 people in London, or a Axl/DC down the road headlining a football stadium in the rain with a replacement singer borrowed from Guns N Roses, and a replacement guitarist and their third drummer in post? Tempting as Axl/DC is, it's not tempting enough. Of course, I could live in somewhere neither AC/DC or PiL have played in around 40,000 years. But that isn't how it is.
I haven't seen PiL in five years, since they headlinined the small Heaven club, played most of their new – and then unreleased - album in a two and a half hour set, and released the show as a DVD. The show then was glorious, but suffered from a thin, deep venue that had poor sightlines and sound, unfamiliar songs, and I wasn't exactly in the best of places, having been made redundant two months earlier and carrying the weight of that worry upon me. Years later, life is a different place, and I'm perhaps more prepared to be in the headspace PiL provide. A PiL gig isn't exactly easy. They don't do greatest hits shows : the band haven't played many of their 'hits' since their 2009 rebirth, and tonight sees a distinct absence of some of the bigger and better known songs from their pop years. But it's tight, it roars, and the band play the best show of theirs I have seen yet.
As has been the way for years, Lu Edmonds and Bruce Smith of the bands 1985-1989 incarnation are on guitar and drums, with Scott Firth on bass. It may have started off as a loose collective of musical workers way back when, but PiL now are accomplished, whip up a vibrant and strong sound, and are adept at old stuff like “Religion” (which tonight breaches the 21 minute barrier), the more obvious rock years with “The Body”, and newer material from last years splendid “What The World Needs Now”.
John Lydon may be past 60 now – as indeed are a great many artists – but age itself is no necessary impediment. Prince saw time as somewhat irrelevant, a way only of marking the passage between pointers, and to be honest, when bands I love age, that's how I feel. If Bernard Sumner is 60, and even the relatively new John Grant is 47, it's somewhat unimportant except in so much as time will pass and eventually all artists will end. There always be songs unwritten and choruses unsung.
With two thirds of the new record in tonights setlist, it's fairly clear that PiL are looking forward as much as back. The newer stuff – Corporate, Bettie Page – shows the artistic crime that Virgin committed by holding Rotten to ransom with a contract they had no intention of honouring. By 10pm, the band are in full swing. There's a tighter locked groove from human metronome Bruce Smith, and Scott Firth on bass and electronics is also finely in there, the rhythm precise and almost mechanical, but also – and especially on “Religion” - the loudest, deepest bass I've ever heard. (Yes, Leftfield at Glastonbury was a baby's paw compared at this). There's no “Disappointed”, or “Seattle”, or “Home”, or “Bad Life”, or ....
There's also a solid hour of deep cuts and a handful of older hits. “The Order Of Death” is – to these ears – one of the finest PiL songs of all time. I never thought I'd see it played live. It tantalisingly melds into “Tie Me To the Length Of That” after a couple of minutes. Free to follow their own path. Near the end, “Warrior” tops ten minutes as one of the great, unloved songs of the decade that shows PiL far beyond their alleged peers (really, what were some of the punk greats doing in 1989?), and the final song is a medley of a roaring cover of Leftfield/Lydon's “Open Up”, and the glorious, best-PiL-song-in-decades “Shoom”, which is just a fantastic, misanthrophic, cyncial swearfest built on a huge groove, roaring guitars, and wonderful dynamics that make it near enough the perfect show closer, as band, and crowd, in unison loudly chant very naughty words. It's not big, and it's not clever, but at the same time, it is enormous, and smart, and knowingly inarticulate. As Lydon so often says, this is proper music, for proper people. It's all here, raw, and uncompromising artistically. It won't headline stadiums and be as big as U2, but biggest isn't always best.
The Order of Death
Tie Me To The Length Of That
I'm Not Satisfied