I nearly started this post off using the subtitle ‘Fuck the Pistols’.
I’m glad I didn’t. I love the Pistols. I just love PiL more.
It’s a shame that I compared the two bands – I’m relying on the Lydon link- but the Pistols and PiL are very different animals. This isn’t a Liam Gallagher Oasis V’s Beady Eye, or a Sean Ryder Happy Mondays V’s Black Grape. This is an electric v’s acoustic Dylan, or a solo Lennon V’s the Beatles – radically different sounds, ideas, production and motivation.
Lydon is a true iconoclast (right up with Lennon, McCartney, Jagger and Townsend) creating not just one musical genre but two. CBGB’s may claim punk, but the movement never had a figurehead or manifesto until Johnny Rotten. Rotten made punk mainstream and gave it a human identity.
Post punk too belongs to Lydon; there may have been forerunners to a sound later given the title – but no Lydon, no movement.
PiL are exceptional live. In a week where I have watched the Night Beats, the Dandy Warhols and Brian Wilson, PiL stand out as the most exciting and interesting. They have the most intensity, the most integrity, and the most still to prove.
Years after Walker, Wobble and Levine, PiL still create an intense sound and put on an impactful show.
With an i-tunes-esque shuffle sound, they belong more to the 21st century than to the late 70s; perfectly blending disco, dub, funk and electronica. Particular praise goes to Lu Edmonds (surely waiting for Nic Cave to audition future Bad Seeds) who’s guitar playing provides a wall of sound equal that of Johnny Greenwood or Thurston Moore.
Lydon proves at his brightest when away from the shiny lights (tv/ radio studios/ book signings). Here he is defiant, angry, desperate and mortal. He is also very serious, clearly still believing that music should stand for something; yet happy to challenge the audience rather than give them what they need.
PiL provide a sensory overload; intricate drum rhythms blend with reggae baselines and extreme lyrics. The minimalist backdrop and use of strobe lighting provides a mid/late 90s dance feel to the event- proving beneficial in contextualizing the heavy dance/ electronic elements of the sound.
Rise is played brilliantly as is This is not a love song. A 20 minute call and response to turn up the base aside this is a 10 out of 10 show. A masterpiece.
Let’s not fuck the pistols, but let’s acknowledge PiL as the better of two ground breaking bands.