I WAS THERE: PiL Put Sex Pistols Fans In Their Place With an Endless Set of Post-Punk Classics At Music Hall of Williamsburg

Words and Photos by Andrew Parks

The Artist & Their Latest Release: Public Image Ltd., That What Is Not (Virgin, 1992)

The Show: Music Hall of Williamsburg, 5.19.10

The Set In a Few Sentences: Will John Lydon ever be seen as anything but Johnny Rotten in the eyes of most people? Yes and no if Wednesday’s absurdly intimate Brooklyn show was any indication. While PiL’s Music Hall crowd was dominated by diehards who actually knew the difference between the call-to-arms dance chords of “Warrior, the spare, bleak post-punk of “Flowers of Romance” and the graveyard grooves of “Albatross,” a few people up front seemed unwilling to let Lydon’s Sex Pistols past go. One brave soul even gobbed in Lydon’s general direction as he tore through “Poptones.” Needless to say, Lydon was not happy.

“You’re at the wrong show at the wrong time, motherfucker,” he said. “Let me tell you something–you only spit on your enemies. And I’m not your enemy. I’ve never been. Save that behavior for Sarah Palin or the Tea Party.”

In a way, that moment set the tone for the evening, as this show–more than any we’ve seen in a while–didn’t feel like a typical New York gathering of bloggers, amateur photographers and people who treat Pitchfork like the morning paper. It felt like a gathering of outcasts (or quite simply “friends,” as Lydon kept referring to all of us) who’ve long believed that PiL is one of the most important, and influential, acts of the post-punk era.

They’re right, of course. The problem lies in the fact that PiL’s best material–or at least their moodiest–arrived in the early ’80s and has long been overshadowed by Lydon’s tabloid tantrums. So while the disco-punk of bands like Bloc Party, LCD Soundsystem and the Rapture owe a lot to songs like “Careering” and “Death Disco,” you wouldn’t know it by looking at PiL’s fanbase. Or as Lydon said with a smile, “I’d say you all look younger, but I’d be lying.”

And a Letter Grade: A-