John Lydon, rock icon, punk legend, rock opera jam band leader? If you thought the latter then you are lying, but that was what the case was on Thursday night at the Regency Ballroom in San Francisco, when Public Image Ltd. brought their traveling roadshow to town. My buddy Burger and I won tickets from Amoeba (greatest record store ever) and while we drinking at the 101 bar next door to the Regency we discussed how excited we were to see Johnny Rotten, but didn’t really expect much. Granted he had a reputation for being a badass thirty years ago, but this PiL isn’t punk rock and this isn’t 1977.
We got into the show and they started up around 8:45, no opening act, and right away we noticed the energy and the punk rock attitude that still remained. This wasn’t John Lydon this was Johnny Rotten, yeah he’s clean, yeah he’s a little older, a little rounder, but he’s still Johnny Rotten. He was still the militant anti-government, anti-God heathen we loved from so long ago. He still played those songs that we learned to love after the Sex Pistols went their separate ways.
Periodically, he would go to the drum stand take a swig of Brandy and water almost simultaneously, gargle it as if it were mouthwash and then spit it into a trashcan set up specifically so he wouldn’t have to swallow, which he deftly explained later with that trademark sardonic wit of his, “Yes, that is Brandy and no I don’t ssssswallowwwwww.” The show itself was remarkable. Burger exclaimed that it was one of the greatest shows he’d ever been to and as a fan of everything Johnny Rotten and John Lydon (they are separate personalities after all) stand for it was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had at a show.
As I stood in the photographer’s well in the first part of the show, snapping away, I couldn’t get rid of the Cheshire cat grin that covered my face. I couldn’t stop smiling I was positively giddy with joy as he sauntered and danced around the stage without a care. To even try and really explain the music is like trying to explain the ending of Inception. You just have to go and experience it for yourself. You must not let yourself be caught up in the misconception that Public Image Ltd. is a band that is past its prime. That is a pitfall that the narrow minded among us let ourselves get caught up in far too often. No, instead let yourself be immersed in the joy that comes from the enlightened one, the guru of punk, the sage of operatic rock and the shaman of all things deleterious to the establishment. Allow yourself to be Rotten.