LIVE REVIEW: PiL at Variety Playhouse Oct. 10

With the Public Image Is Rotten Tour, John Lydon and Co. delved into 40 years of subversive music

PiL 010 Perry Julien Copy
Photo credit: Perry Julien
THIS IS PIL: John Lydon on stage during "the Public Image Is Rotten" Tour stop at Variety Playhouse Oct. 10.

In the history of subversive music, John Lydon’s influence cannot be overstated. From the Sex Pistols’ full-throttle U.K. punk charge to the haunting post-punk and intellectual anti-rock traipse of Public Image Ltd., Lydon has raised the bar high for musical expression without compromise.

On October 10, the group played Variety Playhouse, on its The Public Image Is Rotten Tour. The show offered a comprehensive look at PiL’s 40-year history and evolution, illustrating a musical conversation that Lydon has carried on throughout his entire career as an artist.

After more than four decades, Lydon remains dedicated to the high standards he set during a more corporeal era for music. The PiL banner towering boldly behind the band triggered a Pavlovian response from the audience members who’d braved the winds and the rain of Hurricane Michael’s outer bands to witness the show.
Lydon has a long and rich history with Atlanta. From the Sex Pistols playing their first North American show at the Great Southeastern Music Hall to PiL’s legendary early shows at the Agora Ballroom. These events still resonate in the hearts and minds of anyone who was there (or not).

PiL’s legacy is a deep dive into understanding how the human mind interfaces with music, and all of the emotional responses — subtle and profound— that music can invoke. On Wednesday night, this musical connection hovered over the crowd with an almost mystical presence.

From the opening notes of “Deeper Water,” from 2012’s This Is PiL to a barrelling encore performance of the group’s 1978 debut single, “Public Image,” the group performed like a well-oiled machine. At 62-years-old, Lydon has the stage presence of an elder statesman. No longer the spry, bouncing pixie of early PiL videos, he channeled every ounce of his life’s experiences into exposing wholly new dimensions in songs such as “Disappointed,” “Death Disco,” and “I’m Not Satisfied.” The band that surrounds him — guitarist Lu Edmonds, drummer Bruce Smith, and bass player Scott Firth — render each song with a singular identity that is unmistakably PiL, delivered with a living, breathing energy. The show reached an absolute peak with a rumbling modern makeover of “The Flowers of Romance” followed by “This Is Not A Love Song.”

The world has changed over the last 40 years, PiL has changed as well. When the group leaned into “Rise,” the final number of its proper set, the mantra, “anger is an energy,” shouted by Lydon, and shouted right back at him by the packed-out Variety Playhouse, a powerful exchange took place.

Unfolding on stage amid an era that will surely be looked upon as a particularly boorish time for human interaction, it’s profound when a decades-old song such as “Rise” cuts through history and feels as poignant as the day it was written. It’s the mark of truly timeless music. Lydon and PiL remain as relevant, provocative, and compelling now as any other chapter throughout the group’s history.


“Deeper Water”
“The Body”
“The One”
“Death Disco”
“I'm Not Satisfied”
“Flowers of Romance”
“This Is Not A Love Song”

“Public Image”
“Open Up” (by Leftfield & Lydon)

Read Chad Radford’s Q&A with John Lydon for Creative Loafing.

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