Archive for May, 2010


May 3, 2010

(This blog post is a review of a rock concert I went to last month; it was originally written for the RE/Search Publications newsletter that is edited by my friend V. Vale. I used to go see a lot of rock bands, especially punk bands, before I fell in love with theatre. The Sex Pistols were a very theatrical band – in the documentary film “The Filth and the Fury” Johnny Rotten explains how he got his early punk stage persona from watching Lawrence Olivier in “Richard III.”)

I saw Public Image Limited (Pil) play in San Francisco on Saturday, April 17th, at the Regency Center on Van Ness. I almost didn’t go; advance tickets were fifty bucks and there were an additional 12 or 13 dollars in service charges. But at the last minute I decided to buy a ticket at the door. The show was billed as “An Evening With Public Image Limited,” which meant that there was no opening act, PiL started on time and they played for a full two hours. It ended up being a fantastic experience that exceeded any expectations I had for it.

John Lydon, singer and founder of Pil, looked and sounded great. There are all sorts of clips of this reunion tour on Youtube, including the SF show, but there is nothing like being there in person. Public Image was LOUD, clean and tight. This is Pil’s first tour in 17 years. They played extended, and often danceable, versions of songs from all phases of their career. As I watched Lydon I thought about how he used to look when he was younger, with his spiky hair and sneer; He was sarcastic, insulting to audiences and always seemed angry about what was going on. His hair is now even spikier. But he has a friendly, if impish, grin and seemed happy to be on stage singing again, working with talented musicians and in a town that loves him. 

Lydon, of course, has a long history with San Francisco. On January 14, 1978, as Johnny Rotten, he played at Winterland at what ended up being the final Sex Pistols gig. (Winterland is gone now but was located just 8 blocks west of the Regency Center.) At the end of that night he famously asked the audience, “Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?” No one felt that way at the Regency Center – Lydon actually thanked the crowd for being so respectful! There were moments when he even encouraged them to sing along.

   Lydon has returned to the City many times since then, most notably in 1984, when Pil played at a book release party for “RE/SEARCH 8/9: J.G. BALLARD.” It was in one of dock warehouses at Fort Mason. There were live S&M scenarios for people to check out as soon as they walked in. Further inside there were two wrecked automobiles that V. Vale had procured from a junkyard and mounted on top of each other like copulating bugs. It was a tribute to Ballard’s novel “Crash,” and was complete with a nurse and car crash victims covered in blood. Later a ram-car constructed by Survival Research Labs was brought in to assault the vehicles. The whole time there were multi-media projections of horrific images of forensic pathology on the walls. And then, after all that, Public Image came out and played their set.

Malcolm Mclaren’s recent death revived the discussion of the early days of punk, and of who really deserved credit for the Sex Pistols sound and image. But at the Regency Center on April 17th, all that mattered was that Lydon has survived and continued to grow as a person and an artist, and has remaining true to his punk roots and aesthetics. And for those who were there to experience it, this was yet another historic concert San Francisco. 

 For more info about this and other Pil shows, including live videos, check out the band’s website: