Words and Photos by Greg Jacobs

“This is PiL, F*ck The System.”

John Lydon’s closing words to the crowd after his band’s 90-minute set at The Observatory in Orange County, CA, Sunday night 11/4/2018.

The first thing I would like to say to PiL is: THANK YOU! Thank you for the adult rockshow tonight. Thank you for being the only band on the bill. Thank you for starting at 9:00 (ish). Thank you for allowing me to be home and in bed at a relatively early time on a Sunday night so that work is not a total nightmare today.

Public Image Ltd (PiL) put on an interesting show. It felt more like a performance than a rockshow. Almost as if the audience could have been seated rather than in a standing-room venue. The band, a supporting cast to its conductor, John Lydon, are incredible musicians. And Mr. Lydon, the conductor, stands front and center, feet planted, eyes closed, surrounded by monitors, a microphone and a music stand in front of him with a book resting on the shelf to remind himself of lyrics gone by. While he is Johnny Rotten no more, he is John Lydon, king shit-stirrer, seller of butter, master of the vocal vibrato, of rolling his r’s and the reason everyone was there.

The set opened with about 10 songs that I hadn’t heard before … Although, after seeing a copy of the set list, some of the songs were actually from records that I own and listen to, but Lydon seems to change the vocal melodies at will, making even some of the recognizable songs difficult to decipher from the unfamiliar ones. About 45 minutes into the set, someone from the crowd yelled “play something we know” (he must have been a fan of the earlier records) … To that Mr. Lydon snarkily parroted, “Play something we know? Fuck Off!” and the band played on.

Honestly, I agreed with the yeller at the time. Being a fan of PiL’s first few records, I wanted to hear some old stuff … Then it finally happened! The first few notes of “This Is Not A Love Song” grabbed my attention and I moved closer, followed by “Rise” off the “Album” LP and just as momentum was building, it was over and the band left the stage. “Rise” was most animated the crowd got all evening, singing “Anger is an Energy” along with Lydon.

On the encore, the band picked up where they left off, starting with my favorite PiL song, “Public Image” off the first record (First Issue). This is the first time I recall Lydon addressing the crowd, other than telling that guy to F-Off earlier in the evening. He greeted the crowd with a simple “HELLO” which is also the opening of the song … And the crowd returned the greeting … HELLO!

The night ended with a song called “Shoom” which seems to be a big F-U to anyone listening … Closing with the line “What the word needs now is another fuck off.”

Sure, John Lydon was the leader of the Sex Pistols, but that was 40+ years ago. This is different. This is PiL, Fuck the system.

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