Johnny Rotten Takes Anarchy to U.S. as Public Image Tours

John Lydon and PiL
John Lydon of the band Public Image Limited (PiL). The performer, sometimes known as Johnny Rotten, formerly toured with his band Sex Pistols. Photographer: Karl Walter/Getty Images via Bloomberg

John Lydon is about to give North America a righteous blast of post-punk hellfire.

The man sometimes known as Johnny Rotten tonight starts a tour with Public Image Ltd., the band he formed after the Sex Pistols. Recent shows in his native U.K. point the way: The Florida gigs will be nasty, noisy, not pretty and a hard listen -- yet highly recommended for hard rock fans.

The group has spent the summer stripping off the U.K.’s smiley Olympic-pop veneer and the continuing prominence of commercial stars such as Jessie J.

Since 1978, Lydon has been the only constant member of PiL, which expands punk’s nihilism with dub reggae and the pulses of German acts such as Can. Lydon’s current supporters are able to do justice to his back catalog and also responsible for a new CD, “This is PiL,” a career highlight.

Shows start with the caustic disco of 1983’s “This Is Not a Love Song” before plummeting into the recent “Deeper Water.” The demented groove of “Death Disco” is mixed with the repeated theme from “Swan Lake.” Bruce Smith and Scott Firth mesmerize with motoric drums and bass.

Lu Edmonds shreds the air with electric guitar and more exotic amplified instruments such as the saz (a sort of long-necked oud) and the cumbus (a fretless Turkish banjo.)

Lydon remains the high priest, his thinning hair spiked vertically, his eyes a gargoyle stare.

He howls, sneers and spits out his vocals with a demented intensity, over-enunciating like an obsessive-compulsive Welsh speaker. Ridiculous, clumsily dramatic, with a menace of violence, Lydon is the living embodiment of an old English Punch and Judy show.

Rating: ****.

The Public Image Ltd. North American tour starts tonight in Orlando, Florida. It continues through Nov. 3, including dates in Miami, Washington DC, Philadelphia, New York, Boston, Montreal, Toronto, Detroit, Chicago, Minneapolis, San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, Dallas, Houston and Austin.

Information: and

What the Stars Mean:
*****      Fantastic
****       Excellent
***        Very Good
**         Good
*          Poor
(No stars) Avoid

(Robert Heller is a music critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

Muse highlights include Martin Gayford on art, Warwick Thompson on London stage and Ryan Sutton on food.

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