Judge P.S. Colbert once caused anarchy in a Circle K.
"The King is gone, but he's not forgotten. Is this the story of Johnny Rotten?"—Neil Young, "Hey Hey, My My"
By Halloween 1983, punk rock cartoon character Johnny Rotten—lead singer of The Sex Pistols—had been dead for five years. John Lydon—the man behind the legend—was in Germany to front his new group, Public Image Limited, in taping an episode of Rockpalast, Deutschland television's long-running live concert program.
To those familiar with the history of this mercurial outfit, it should come as no surprise that—with the exception of Lydon and drummer Martin Atkins—PiL's lineup was filled with temporary members. Facetiously referred to as the "Cabaret Band," guitarist Joseph Guida, bassist Louis Bernardi, and keyboardist Arthur Stead inject the material with a level of conventional musicality that makes the set list sound more like a collection of "songs" than it would have if they'd attempted to copy the original recordings.
Speaking of the set list…
• "Public Image I"
Ordinarily, Lydon has the vocal range of a primal scream, but this night he's battling a cold, which results in some nose-blowing (right into the audience!) and off-mic coughing. Perhaps saving strength for dancing, his interaction with the crowd amounts to little more than telling them to "Shut up!" and "Go home!" twice announcing he's bored and done for the night.
The band soldiers on behind him, occasionally exchanging nervous glances. Is Lydon serious? A fair question, considering the front man's history of unpredictability, which has always been his secret weapon. The crowd closest to the stage seems oblivious to any on-stage trouble…real or imagined. At the same time, a group in the middle of the undulating rabble seems intent on its own disruption by establishing a mosh pit. There are quite a few audience members bouncing in the manner of Sid Vicious' "pogo" dance, with a fair number are sporting spiky Mohawks. Not surprisingly, the biggest ovation comes after the band delivers a perfunctory cover of the Sex Pistols' "Anarchy in the U.K."
Though it holds up reasonably well as entertainment for completists, Public Image Limited: Live at Rockpalast doesn't work well as an introduction to PiL, who claimed the studio mixing board was an equal member of the band, as opposed to the accomplished players for hire used here.
In keeping with other recent Rockpalast DVD releases, the standard definition 1.33:1 transfer is fantastic, looking as if it hasn't aged one bit since the original broadcast. The PCM 2.0 stereo mix likewise holds up its end of the bargain. Extras in rehearsal footage of two songs, and a brief interview with Lydon conducted by program host Alan Bangs.
John Lydon is nothing but entertaining, though he's certainly seen better nights.
Not guilty, but also not a ringing endorsement.
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