If the Sex Pistols were the archetypal punk band, PiL is its antithesis, rising from the ashes of the Sex Pistols' breakup. Where the Sex Pistols' songs were short and stripped-down, PiL's post-punk songs are lengthier and longer on experimentation. Vocalist Lydon, previous PiL members Lu Edmonds on guitar and Bruce Smith on drums and newcomer Scott Firth on bass did not shy away from the experiments, though those experiments have long been repeatable.
Trademark sounds were evident from the beginning of the two-hour show with famous opener, "This Is Not a Love Song." For Lydon, it was the tremolo in his delivery; for Firth and Smith, it was the synchronized pulse of bass and kick drum. Edmonds solidified the minor-key tonality. He also effortlessly steered the band into "Poptones" with his arpeggiated guitar riffs.
Lydon began the night wearing a red vest, but by the time "Memories" rolled around, he had abandoned it for an all-black ensemble. With his herky-jerky movements, he resembled a Frankenstein raised on punk rock.
Appearances notwithstanding, the band also covered non-PiL material. "This is PiL. We like to mix and match. 'Psychopath,' " Lydon said when introducing the song from his 1997 solo album, Psycho's Path. When he sang the line Clutching at straws, listeners could hear another Lydon mannerism: The iconic frontman rolls his r's in words like "straws," "pretty" or "British." "Psychopath" was mellow and melodic in contrast to earlier songs such as "Death Disco," which showed that once Lydon finds his yelling range, he tends to stay there.
"Sun" was another song from Psycho's Path. Edmonds played melodica on this one, and Firth played rhythm guitar. There was no bass guitar, but it wasn't missed in what became a sing-along-with-Lydon moment. Furthermore, Edmonds proved he is not only a multi-instrumentalist but an imaginative one, at that. On "Flowers of Romance," he played the banjo with a violin bow.
But what's a PiL performance without being bashed about the head by Lydon and his views on politics and religion? During his "Warrior" rant, he said, "For eight years we lived in the shadows under a fucking Bush." That outburst was softened by "Disappointed" and its background harmonies as Edmonds, Smith and Firth tunefully sang What friends are for. At song's end, Lydon remarked, "Friends are for forgiving. Without that, there is no future."
Then came Lydon's intro to "Religion": "Here's a song that's nearly 30 years old, and it's as fucking accurate as ever," overdoing the allusion to the Vatican -- which is in the news for a clerical sex abuse scandal -- when he said, The pope is a Nazi in dresses.
"Religion" crescendoed into the loudest song of the night, which is saying something when compared with the cavernous vocals on "Albatross." But Lydon kept asking, "Do you want more bass?" and the soundman kept pushing the levels into the red. Meanwhile, the Midland crowd seemed interested -- but not too interested -- in moving to the inescapable beat. There were a lot of people standing and sitting around as "Religion" devolved into noise.
Saving the fun for last, the fake encore included "Public Image" and a thank-you from Lydon to a traveling contingent, referring to a group that traveled to Kansas City from Denver after PiL canceled a show there. (The band couldn't get to the Mile High City on time because of bad weather, and said on its website that it would honor Denver tickets at its Kansas City show.) "Rise" was uplifting, too, with its jaunty May the road rise to meet you refrain. The show closed down with "Open Up," a song Lydon recorded with progressive electronic duo Leftfield. Firth brought the house bass thrum; and Smith, the solid beat.
This Is Not a Love Song
Tie Me to the Length of That
Flowers of Romance