PUBLIC IMAGE LTD + MERYL STREEK – CHALK, BRIGHTON 26.9.23
In my reviews, it’s always a case of honesty is the best policy and on hearing that Public Image Ltd aka PiL were set to return to Chalk in Brighton this evening, I must state for the record that there was some trepidation as to whether to bother to actually go or not! This being on the account of the past few times I have been to see them since my debut encounter at Brighton’s Top Rank Suite (now PRYZM) 2nd November 1983, I have inevitably come away from the subsequent gigs a relatively happy man having had a good night out, but somehow still asking myself whether John Lydon is actually relevant any more!
I therefore almost delegated this evening’s concert over to someone else to review, but again for the record, thank f*ck I didn’t, as I honestly thought that tonight was the very best PiL gig that I have ever had the pleasure to have witnessed! I really never thought that I would be typing that statement out in a PiL review ever again! So what’s changed in order for this to have happened? Let’s find out…..
Firstly there’s the case of PiL’s latest long player ‘End Of World’ (order HERE) which is their first in eight years and dropped last month on 11th August. The work sees them in new, emotionally wrought territory, whilst baring vulnerability as well as their teeth. The thirteen song release is dedicated to Lydon’s soulmate Nora Forster who sadly passed away from Alzheimer’s on 5th April this year. I can empathise with how he felt beforehand, during and after the passing having lost a parent from the same curse, as well as also losing my partner, Jordan Mooney, who knew Lydon very well. It’s a terrible loss that will never leave him, but Nora wouldn’t have wanted Lydon to mope around. She would have wanted him to carry on with the release of ‘End Of World’ and go out and tour with it, that much is certain! So it’s evident that Lydon has had a weight lifted off of his shoulders and the sense of relief and new beginnings is now upon him. This is the next chapter of PiL.
The band are very much these days, thankfully, a fixed unit with John Lydon being at the helm throughout PiL’s existence (1978–1992, 2009–present), and aided by Bruce Smith on drums, percussion, programming, backing vocals (1986–1990, 2009–present), Lu Edmonds on guitar, keyboards, saz, banjo, backing vocals (1986–1988, 2009–present) and Scott Firth on bass, keyboards, synthesizers, backing vocals (2009–present). They know each other well and clearly have gelled further with the release of the new album, which is as it should be for the longest stable line-up in the band’s history. ‘End Of World’ is bursting with ideas and a formidable sense of playfulness that belies their years, they are a born again post Eurovision outfit.
It goes without saying that PiL are widely regarded as one of the most innovative and influential bands of all-time, as their music has earned them 5 UK Top 20 singles and 5 UK Top 20 albums. Their 1978 debut album ‘First Issue’ and following ‘Metal Box’ are absolute classics and the latter arguably rewrote the way that people view music. The band initially worked through until 1992’s ‘That What Is Not’, before a 17 year hiatus and then Lydon reactivated PiL in 2009, touring extensively before releasing two further critically acclaimed albums before this latest release, those being ‘This Is PiL’ in 2012, and ‘What The World Is Now’ in 2015.
Moving right up to date, PiL 2023 are here this evening at Chalk and Lydon opens by addressing the crowd with “Thank you for being here this evening”, to which an avid fan near us at the front pipes up “Welcome to Brighton!”, to which Lydon replies “You should be thrown out for that remark!”. So some things haven’t changed (with the Lydon comebacks), that is until the band strike up with the opening number of the night, ‘Penge’ which is also the opener on the new album. Being a new tune, Lydon reads from his hymn sheet on a stand in front of him. Although it appears he might have put on a little weight again (haven’t we all), he is looking rather dapper this evening in his long coat and red Showaddywaddy style shoes and Mohican style bonnet.
There are actually six guys on stage this evening (and for every PiL gig), as well as the band, stage left (our right) is a guy that’s likely to be the sound engineer and on the opposite wing, is Lydon’s best mate and manager Rambo, who is sporting a Dexys meets Cosh Boy look as he marches to every tune throughout the whole set, whilst keeping a beady eye on the punters behaviour. There’s no riot’s tonight, and other than moving forward once to signal for a reveller to get down off someone’s shoulders, it was easy going for him.
Talking of policing the evening, this was very much down to Lydon who on two occasions reminded folk that there is a live performance going on and to live the moment, or in his words “Don’t do that Britney Spears shit” when referencing people who were filming the gig and taking photos on their mobile phones. I was very pleased that he called people out, although I was secretly making notes on my phone throughout the gig so that I can give you this report. However, the woman next to me had up until that point been very annoying by continuously barging me when she was repeatedly filming herself, her boyfriend and the band.
‘Albatross’ from 1979’s ‘Metal Box’ was their second selection and this sounded a particularly fine version and on reflection sounded the improvement in tune delivery throughout the set. After which Lydon sang “Oh no; You’re being stupid again” from new album track four, ‘Being Stupid Again’, which segued straight into 1984’s ‘This Is Not A Love Song’ smash hit. The backbeat of the delivery this evening reminded me of ‘Relax’ by Frankie Goes To Hollywood meets Tubeway Army’s (Gary Numan) ‘Me, I Disconnect From You’, which in my eyes is praise indeed.
Two tunes from ‘Metal Box’ were our next treats, these being a mighty fine version of ‘Poptones’ and a somewhat remixed edition version of ‘Death Disco’. After 2012’s ‘The Room I Am In’ we had a good rendition of 1981’s ‘Flowers Of Romance’, after which they played an absolutely storming version of ‘Memories’ (another from ‘Metal Box’) which really got me bopping along, and quite possibly sneaked in as track of the night for me. ‘Memories’ then segued directly into ‘Car Chase’ (which for me is the standout track from the new LP) with its “Car chase; I don’t get bothered; I don’t get bored; I get ignored” chorus.
They concluded their main set with 1987’s ‘The Body’ (from the ‘Happy?’ album), which segued into the wonderful dance beat of 1989’s ‘Warrior’ (from the ‘9’ album) and then ‘Shoom’ (from 2015 ‘What The World Needs Now…’ album). I had noted that tonight’s set had a more solid dance vibe than on previous occasions, the sound was clear and crisp and Lydon and the lads were well on form. There was also hardly any Lydon putdowns, favouring the quality music to do all the talking, well that is until the arrival of thee Frankie Goes To Hollywood styled ‘Shoom’ with its 24 swear words which Lydon sarcastically dedicated to Generation Sex, which is the superband featuring two of his old Sex Pistols chums* (*delete last word if required) Jones and Cook, as well as Billy Idol and Tony James. After this Lydon informed us that they would “be back in about 4 minutes after we have consumed some combustibles”.
The encore was a trio of big hitters which commenced with 1978’s ‘Public Image’, (cue moshpit!) which was released as a newspaper wrapped 7” single, which I still treasure, despite the spelling mistake on the day “Tursday”, anyone else spotted that? The Leftfield Lydon ‘Open Up’ was the penultimate number. It was quite dancey but not quite as much as the original single.
They signed off with 1986 timeless classic ‘Rise’, after which we were encouraged by Lydon to give Nora a wave. The punters then chanted “Nora! Nora! Nora!” and clearly Lydon was taken aback by this and welled up as he vacated the stage. It had been a pure masterclass and anyone that decided not to attend for the reasons listed at the start, you lost out, and anyone present this evening, will know exactly what I mean. Terrific stuff!
Public Image Ltd:
John Lydon – vocals
Bruce Smith – drums, percussion, programming
Lu Edmonds – guitar, saz, banjo, backing vocals
Scott Firth – bass, backing vocals
Public Image Ltd setlist:
‘Penge’ (from 2023 ‘End Of World’ album)
‘Albatross’ (from 1979 ‘Metal Box Second Edition’ album)
‘Being Stupid Again’ (from 2023 ‘End Of World’ album)
‘This Is Not A Love Song’ (from 1984 ‘This Is What You Want… This Is What You Get’ album)
‘Poptones’ (from 1979 ‘Metal Box Second Edition’ album)
‘Death Disco’ (from 1979 ‘Metal Box Second Edition’ album (as ‘Swan Lake’) & ‘Death Disco’ single)
‘The Room I Am In’ (from 2012 ‘This Is PiL’ album)
‘Flowers Of Romance’ (from 1981 ‘The Flowers Of Romance’ album)
‘Memories’ (from 1979 ‘Metal Box Second Edition’ album)
‘Car Chase’ (from 2023 ‘End Of World’ album)
‘The Body’ (from 1987 ‘Happy?’ album)
‘Warrior’ (from 1989 ‘9’ album)
‘Shoom’ (from 2015 ‘What The World Needs Now…’ album)
‘Public Image’ (from 1978 ‘Public Image First Issue’ album)
‘Open Up’ (from 1993 ‘Open Up’ single) (Leftfield Lydon tune)
‘Rise’ (from 1986 ‘Album’ album)
In a theme following on from PiL’s last track ‘Rise’ which includes the repeated lyrics of “Anger Is An Energy”, we turn the clock back two and a half hours and we are in the hands of Meryl Streek who began his verbal onslaught at us from 7pm until 7:34pm. Meryl describes his act (or is it?) as “Irish avant-garde punk” and although in the same format as Billy Nomates – who sadly got hammered from some quarters after her Glastonbury performance, thus forcing her to re-evaluate whether or not to carry on – tonight it’s just Meryl, a microphone and a backing track, oh and a handheld torch that he uses.
Seldom will you witness such a diatribe of this magnitude outside of the Sleaford Mods. I’m not sure what they put in the Dublin water when he was young, but Meryl is supercharged almost beyond belief. Whether this is a case of internal adrenalin or aided via chemical assistance (cue pupil check), it’s hard to say. But this is actually irrelevant as Meryl’s message (to him) is key, whether he’s ranting on about the ‘Death Of The Landlord’, or a ‘Demon’, or ‘Educated Mates’ or ‘Suicide’ or even about his grandfather, which was probably ‘Paddy’, Meryl is one angry man, who blasts across the length of the Chalk stage like a caged animal. In fact the cage couldn’t hold him in as he initially came down to the barrier and then marched up and down in the centre of the crowd, to the amusement of some and the bewilderment of others.
It is quite possible that this is an act as he apologised in advance for the swearing, of which there are copious amounts of pent up injustice. His handheld torch gets a workout as well as it’s spun on its lead and used at times to shine on his face in order for us to see his emotions even clearer. Musically the backing track, which I’m not sure if he actually made himself or called on the services of others, was a fusion of punk through to edgy dance. Some next to me danced to it, many just stood and observed his shouty spoken deliveries. The key line I took from the performance was “And the old nuns have more than I do record sleeves”, which I get where he’s coming from.
Let’s face it, a Meryl Streek performance is very much an acquired taste and if your idea of a night out in Brighton involves a Dubliner ranting for half an hour into the mic about the injustices of the world, then you need to get yourself a ticket for the ‘Mutations’ festival (tickets HERE) in November as Meryl is one of the acts on the bill. Failing that, you can wait until 28th February next year, when he will be headlining at the Green Door Store – tickets HERE. On a personal level, I shan’t be bothering, but you can decide for yourselves can’t you!