It has to be weird to be John Lydon. I once saw Public Image Ltd. play in San Francisco and after a few songs, Lydon stormed offstage because people in the front row were spitting at him. They had probably read that punks did that at the early Sex Pistols shows and were trying to re-create the moment. Lydon wasn’t going to let them.
More than anyone else, Lydon was responsible for the cultural explosion of U.K. punk. But that was when he was known as Johnny Rotten and was barely out of his teens. After the Sex Pistols’ inevitable demise, he returned to his given name and essentially created the post-punk genre with the early releases by Public Image Ltd. Still, a big chunk of his audience wanted the Johnny Rotten act.
And it was an act, largely. Lydon has spent the past 20 years or so softening his public image. He broke up PiL, wrote an autobiography exposing himself as more of a prankster than an evil genius, cashed out his punk legacy with a couple of Sex Pistols reunion tours, and even appeared in a TV commercial and a reality TV show.
Now he has returned to the PiL name and more or less to the sound of its early music, heavily influenced by dub reggae and German art rock. And he’s done it without crucial original PiL members Keith Levene and Jah Wobble.
I guess this is not a very punk-rock thing for Lydon to do, but I don’t care. Walking offstage at that show was not a very punk-rock thing to do, but who in the world likes being spit on? He is just a man, after all.
PUBLIC IMAGE LTD.: House of Blues, Monday, October 29, 8:30 p.m. 619-299-2583. $25–$75.