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Post-Punk: Public Image Ltd. @ The Regency Ballroom, 4/17/10

April 18, 2010

I started watching MTV when I was 8 or 9 years old, when it was in it’s prime. While I played instruments, I always kinda knew I wanted to do something in music that didn’t involve actually playing the music. I just took about a 10 year detour before re-realizing that and starting this site.

I was fascinated by the VJs on MTV, and looked up to them almost as much as the rock stars. They got to interview everyone, go to cool places, it all seemed very exciting. But then there was this one interview with Kennedy and this classic band I’d never heard of called the Sex Pistols, with a vocalist with the adorably frightening name Johnny Rotten. Not very far into the interview, this Johnny Rotten person became offended over something I didn’t understand, shouted ‘interview over’ at her, told MTV to ‘fuck off’, took off the microphone and very particularly dropped it on the ground like it was poisonous, and stormed off stage. I was both freaked out and fascinated. (I could not find this video anywhere).

As I grew up, I learned who the Sex Pistols were, and became a fan, perhaps not necessarily only of the music, but of everything they represent and were a part of. And as I finished reading Please Kill Me, I discovered that I would be able to actually see the infamous Johnny Rotten, or John Lydon, as Public Image Ltd. would make a stop in San Francisco following their Coachella appearance. And as that date approached, Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren passed away, reminding me how important is it to get out and see my legends when I have the chance, even when it’s an expensive ticket.

After waiting an hour for a cab, a frustrated HRC stomped into the Regency Ballroom 5 minutes before the show was about to begin. It was surprisingly not super packed, and after meeting up with my friend, we easily took a second row center spot so that we could easily see the legend we’d come to pay our respect to. My friend and I were talking about our fandom, and I mentioned that I was more of a Sex Pistols fan. The guy in front of me on the rail turned around and said, “Sex Pistols! That’s an alter ego”. OK…..superfan identified.

I was noticing how the setlist was a giant posterboard taped to the side of the stage when the lights dimmed and out they came. While the rest of the band was kept to the back of the stage, John Lydon was prominently in the front, with a music stand at his side with a binder resting on it that he would turn a page in after each song. That’s the second time I’ve seen a music stand next to a vocalist this week.


They launched into what might be my favorite PiL song, ‘This is Not a Love Song’. It’s been a long time since I’ve been star struck on this level before. He looked fantastic, sounded fantastic…..I felt the same way as when I saw David Bowie and Iggy Pop for the first time. And with that ‘that’s the guy I’ve read about, listened to, seen on TV come to life in front of me!’ feeling comes the ‘fuck! I was born in the wrong era’ sentiment.

“It’s nice to play in front of a respectful audience” he says. Perhaps the Coachella crowd was not kind to him. The superfan in front of us, and his friend, are pogoing nonstop and slamming into each other. While it was kind of annoying, they knew every word, and Lydon gave them a shout out at one point.

Lydon is so charismatic, it’s difficult to watch anyone else in the band…..which is definitely why the stage is set up as it is. He sings with so much expression, his movements aren’t quite dance moves, but more like he’s talking with his hands. He still has that aire of unpredictability that is woven into his identity.

After ‘Death Disco’, he commented how it was a difficult song to sing. Then came the post-song snot rockets, which, as gross as that is, felt like I was witnessing an important behavioral characteristic of this legend. He seemed to really like the SF crowd; and the SF crowd definitely liked him. Beyond the superfans, someone had a bouquet of flowers for him, someone threw some cards on stage, and then there was this older man who I saw standing near me with a thick white envelope with ‘John Lydon’ and something else written across it. I noticed that he threw it on stage towards the end of the set.

“Who voted for Bush, raise your hands, it’s ok. Did you vote for him because he’s a good looking bloke?” ‘Warrior’ was a highlight, as was ‘Religion’, which ended the main set. He told us they were going to take a smoke break and then come back because they weren’t done with us. The crowd cheered.

The encore of ‘Public Image’->’Rise’-> the ravey ‘Open Up’ was the perfect finisher. The people in front of us left, and my friend and I snagged rail spots for the end. As he thanked us before leaving the stage, I felt compelled to blow a kiss to the legend, and he actually did the same for the crowd. Imagine that, one of the musicians I most feared my whole life, blowing kisses from the stage.

It was a fantastic show….the legend delivered.


Thanks to Alan for taking a picture of the setlist for me.


  1. The Kennedy interview was probably just an early PiL interview. The Pistols broke up in 1978, (when Kennedy was 6 years old) and MTV didn't even go on the air until 81. Kennedy's tenure on MTV was in the 90's, well into PiL's era. (And they _did_ used to play PiL on MTV now and then, amazingly…)

    Sorry to be all persnickity…


    1. You're probably right, or maybe it was just Lydon…I can't remember….I just know that was how I was introduced to him and they must have put 'Sex Pistols' on the screen because that was how I learned of them!

      1. That sounds about like MTV. "We're here with Public Image Limited, featuring Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols." <onscreen title that says "Sex Pistols">. That may even have been what set him off. He was notoriously volatile about being called "Rotten" and referencing the past when he was trying to get people to focus on "Lydon" and PiL, and what he was doing right then.

  2. I watched the whole PiL show online at Coachella and he definitely had a lame crowd out there, kind of falling asleep actually, since it was way past the baby boomers' bedtime. He has slowed down on stage but his voice is still there!! They put on a great show, same setlist pretty much. I felt the same way when I saw Iggy Pop in 1983, which kicked off my whole left turn into punk. Everyone has their own unique punk/metal epiphany!

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