Public Image Ltd performing at the 2015 Voodoo Music + Arts Experience on Oct. 31.
"Good evening. Let me see you."
John Lydon gently sneered at the crowd at the 2015 Voodoo Music + Arts Experience, the first stop for Public Image Ltd on its North American tour following its 10th studio album, What the World Needs Now... Lydon — dressed in a striped black-and-white prisoner or cartoon psychiatric patient costume, with binder clips on the collar — assembled a mug, a bottle of water, a bottle of cognac, and a trashcan, into which he spit the booze throughout the set. In announcing the band's tour, Lydon had cheekily requested gas masks, as he had plans to "fart continuously (there was one gas-masked and HAZMAT-suited couple near the front of the stage). He also frequently shot snot from each nostril.
"What? You f—king nagging again? About what?" Lydon wasted no time ripping right into the spoken introduction of "Double Trouble," the single from the band's latest — which concerns a broken toilet. Lydon had a lyric book and music stand near the microphone, from which he leered into the audience, often staring.
The band — drummer Bruce Smith, guitarist Lu Edmonds and bassist Scott Firth — gunned the volume up after a slightly muted misstep, correcting itself with a nonstop wave of harsh, angular guitars and thick, pounding bass. Lydon (aka Johnny Rotten of The Sex Pistols) formed the post-punk band in its predecessor's aftermath, then resurrected PiL in 2009 after years of the band's turbulence, lineup changes and hiatus. The band's latest lineup includes mostly familiar faces from the band's last few decades — Edmonds, of bands like The Damned and Mekons, and Smith of The Pop Group had joined in the late '80s.
Lydon, meanwhile, continues to lead PiL with this acid-tongued humor and vociferous rants, for which he has found new targets on What the World Needs Now... (the answer, by the way, is "another f— off"). The band's Halloween show marks the first of a 20-date North American tour, as well as Lydon's return to New Orleans following an abrupt cancellation of an all-star Jesus Christ Superstar tour meant to launch at the UNO Lakefront Arena in 2014. Lydon was set to star as King Herod.
The band's set raged from dub- and dance-influenced songs, like 1989's "Warrior" and the commercially anti-commercial "This Is Not A Love Song," which exploded with oversized guitar sounds easily outdoing the cleaned-up sound on the band's hit record. Edmonds — whether on guitar or an electric saz, a long-necked, incredibly resonate stringed instrument — manipulated the eerie post-punk atmosphere with jagged twists and riffs in the dense, bass-heavy stage mix.
The band also performed several new songs from World, including the thrashing punk of "Know Now" and the metallic, dissonant "Corporate," with its grunted chorus of "murderer." Before the band closed with "Rise," another near-pop track from 1989's Album, Lydon offered a simple, "Thank you for being so kind." Lydon's high-pitched nasally warble has given to a more sustained, throaty sound, but just as effective, snotty and provocative. After all, "anger is an energy," he repeated as "Rise" boiled over to a close, even if it's over a broken toilet. Or everything else.