“Burnt me voice out a little,” admits a now 60-year-old John Lydon, addressing the crowd at London’s Indigo At The O2. He confesses to working too hard at his age, and with good reason; Public Image Ltd has reached the halfway point of its 2016 tour, which totals over 35 dates spanning venues across Europe, and South America. But with 12 shows already sold-out, one thing’s for sure, demand for Lydon’s lyrical wit and unconventional vocals still very much exists over 40 years after he burst onto the scene as front man of the Sex Pistols.
The man who was once almost exclusively known by his moniker, ‘Johnny Rotten’, is a music and cultural icon, and with no shortage of appearances on television, and that butter advert, he’s become something of an unlikely national treasure in recent years.
It’s a shame then, that on June 4 in a busy Indigo At The O2, I noticed several gig-goers expressing their distaste for PiL’s performance. Such a reaction seemed totally unfounded; the band was tight and John as charismatic as you’d expect – it’s just a shame he didn’t interact with the crowd between songs a little more.
At most, the band was guilty of not reading the crowd as longer instrumental sections produced a somewhat subdued atmosphere because when PiL increased the tempo for fan favourites such as This Is Not A Love Song and Rise, it was rewarded with an altogether more animated audience.
Lydon has never possessed a conventionally appealing voice, but what he lacks in range and technique he more than makes up for in originality and nuance, and burnt out or not, he still possesses that signature rise of intonation at the end of a phrase, rolled ‘r’ sounds, and instantly recognizable vibrato. Fast approaching 61, a less animated front man can certainly be forgiven. But Lydon’s delivery certainly didn’t suffer and he performed with all of the charisma we’ve come to expect.
Lu Edmonds’ guitar work was particularly impressive, and I found his command of his exotic stringed instrument, the bağlama, fascinating. At times, it really felt like those disgruntled members of the crowd had been on hiatus since punk exploded in the 1970s. And although they had evidently changed themselves, many clad in smart checked shirts and brown loafers, they were somehow still expecting a carbon copy of the energy and sound that the movement displayed in its heyday.
But for the punk stalwart, still clad in studded leather jacket and Dr Martens, PiL’s funky post-punk sound, delivered by punk rock’s favourite frontman, was more than enough. Perhaps the band could have adapted to the crowd’s, at times, subdued demeanour, but then again, part of Lydon’s charm is that he’s never pandered to the masses. And after a successful career that’s spanned five decades, why start now?