PUBLIC IMAGE LTD at VICAR ST, DUBLIN, 26/08/17

John Lydon walked up to the mic, leaned in close, and sneered “it’s been a saucy day!

“We’re here to fix that.”   

Outside, Dublin was almost dead. The streets were empty and silent. Shut down for the visiting Pope Francis. He’d preached his sermon in the parks and paraded through the city for the sparse crowds. Crowds far below the expected attendance. Ireland’s people stayed away in droves. Staging a silent rebellion against the catholic history of the Emerald Isle.

Lydon inhaled with the mic all but between his teeth. Then let fly with a lyric ballsier than most bands’ entire careers: “Stained glass windows keep the cold outside, While the hypocrites hide inside.” And the crowd roared their approval. Vocalising the rebellion the greater population kept bottled up inside themselves.

He ranted and spat through Religion’s lyric. Venom flying from the razor-edged words. Words that still ring true 40 years after they were released into the wild: “And prey to the God of a bitch spelled backwards is dog, Not for one race, one creed, one world, But for money.” And when the band at last kicked in, Public Image Ltd proved their vitality beyond all doubt. Harnessing the furious energy that makes their music individual and universal.

They segued seamlessly into Warrior, Lydon’s anthem for those fighting the constant good-fight against “boredom and oppression.” Bruce Smith’s drums fused with Scott Firth’s bass playing, forming one solid fist of sound that hit with all the force of a storm. Theirs was a very physical groove. A groove readily identifiable as PiL’s own just as The Fall’s rhythms were unmistakably theirs. It’s a rhythm that’s simultaneously familiar and alien. Energetic and loose as a disco-beat. But also dissonant, angry. Provoking the crowd into movement rather than seducing them.

As PiL moved through their set the groove shifted and reshaped itself, but never let up. Atop its constant loop soared Lydon’s vocals and Lu Edmonds’s guitar/saz playing. Rather than occupy traditional lead-instrument roles, they roamed wild and purposeful as a wolf pack on the rhythm section’s terrain. Weaving in and out of each other’s metallic sound-sheets and banshee-howls. And as the grooves looped on ad infinitum, and the free-noise of Lydon and Edmonds reached a zenith, the crowd broke out in a rapture. Crowd-surfing, moshing, and roaring along with This Is Not A Love Song’s refrain. Raising themselves even higher in euphoria.

Rise was the pre-encore finale. And its mantra of “Anger is an energy” rang through the air. Triumphant, strong. Edmonds bowed the strings of his saz. Pulling long, droning notes out of its teardrop-shaped body. And as he raked the bow’s horsehair against the saz’s strings and Lydon invoked old Gaelic spirits with the refrain “May the road rise with you” Smith and Firth shouldered them as Atlas held up the heavens. Hoisting Vicar St up to Zion. Audience, band, and all.

But then it was over. The encore of Public Image, Open Up, and Shoom faded out until it was only a sharp ringing in the ears. Vicar St returned to its foundations. And the crowd streamed out into the once-dead streets. Vital, vibrant, and alive.

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