Friday Night: Public Image Ltd. at Scout Bar
Not many shows remind you that sound has actual, physical mass, but Public Image Ltd. sure did Friday. Mass, as in something tangible and discernible, with density and volume.
Especially volume. But don't count out density.
Yes, I'm talking about some Albert Einstein-type shit, but I think John Lydon could dig it the same way Einstein would have dug Lydon's neon orange suspenders Friday. Sound is a form of energy, which as Uncle Al discovered, is a product of mass and acceleration. Eureka!
Friday, PiL played 15 songs in two (very) solid hours. The foursome didn't let up until "Open Up," the single Lydon cut in 1993 with UK progressive-house pioneers Leftfield, had throbbed for several minutes. But at that point it was a little tough to measure time accurately. This show made my teeth hurt, and may have loosened a filling.
Lydon is arguably the most famous original punk rocker still alive, but there was precious little punk rock in what PiL played Friday. Not punk rock in the Circle Jerks-ish one-two-three-four style many people associate with punk rock, and as practiced by (perfectly fine) openers Dykes on Bikes. This was dense, difficult, and very deliberate, unsettling as hell and yet somehow irresistible.
If a lot of what Lydon's band -- Lu Edmonds (guitar), kilt-clad Scott Firth (bass) and Bruce Smith (drums) -- played wasn't improvised, it might has well have been, which of course probably means it was calculated down to the eighth note. During more a kaleidoscopic succession of sonic abstractions than anything you and I know as rock and roll "songs," Stevens put a couple of of exotic-looking instruments -- an electric sitar/lute, and a banjo-ish thing he played with a bow at one point -- through a series of paces that would have made most Marine drill sergeants ask him to let up.
But he also periodically switched over to a (gorgeous) hollowbody guitar, and the aural damage was just as severe. It might be easier to describe the colors of the stage lights during each song than to try to describe what it sounded like, except that they were all of a piece, alien and abrasive yet sensual and tactile. Generally, it creeped me out.