Written by Daniel Dylan Wray
There are few artists who are so deeply entrenched into the history of the 100 Club as John Lydon. Back in September 1976 his band, the Sex Pistols - along with the likes of the Clash and the Damned - performed the 100 Club Punk Special, a two-day event that became a watershed moment in UK music that altered the style, pace, aesthetic and attitude of music irreversibly.
Before Lydon and his post-Pistols project, Public Image Ltd - now celebrating their 40th anniversary - arrive on stage, DJ Phil Taggart plays an eclectic set that weaves between gently euphoric electronic music, to gut-wobbling dub and into post-punk, playing classics such as ‘To Hell With Poverty’ by Gang of Four alongside more modern explorations of the genre, like IDLES’ ‘Mother’, which has the eager crowd screaming along.
“This is our 40th and we’ve been celebrating a bit too fucking much,” announces Lydon as he comes on stage in a chef’s outfit, complete with hat and apron. “Enjoy or die but I hope you fucking live.” Any sign of tour fatigue or bleariness is obliterated as soon as Lydon’s voice begins to wail on the opening ‘Warrior’ as the band lock into a deep groove and Lu Edmonds’ guitar buzzes like an electricity pylon around the rolling, immersive bass lines.
It’s remarkable how strong Lydon’s voice sounds after all these years; not only does it hold up but his inimitable blend of theatrics, anguish, snarl, humour and experimentation feels potently fresh, as though he’s still unlocking new ways to use it. This is something he demonstrates with the almost banshee-like screams during ‘The Body’. “It’s warmer than I remember in here,” Lydon observes a few songs in. “Nah, we’re just all fatter now. It’s all that butter, if you’re going to do a product then wear it well,” he then adds, to great laughter.
As PiL work through the set, the band are intuitively locked-in to one another and the rhythm section of Bruce Smith and Scott Firth is so tight they appear glued together. It’s these moments - as on the constantly-building ‘Flowers of Romance’ - when the band lock into disco meets dub mode, stretching out their elongated grooves as guitars scratch, buzz and hover above the rhythm and Lydon weaves in and out with both grace and unpredictability, that they feel most ferocious - and also quite sultry.
‘This is Not A Love Song’ is stripped of its new wave pop gleam and feels thrilling in its delivery, as Lydon and the band allow the chorus to rise and crash over and over again. The melody buried beneath the water-tight flow of the beat circles and glistens, creating a moment that feels like it could go on endlessly and tirelessly.
“Hello...hello...hello,” Lydon says, addressing members of the audience before the band rocket into ‘Public Image’, a song that still sounds as taut, wiry and urgent as ever. It’s a track that continues to perfectly encapsulate PiL’s transition and birth, moving from the Sex Pistols’ straight-down-the-line punk and hurtling into a brand new world of possibilities. For the closing ‘Shoom’ Lydon delights in a giant singalong, encouraging the crowd to shout “fuck off” until they are hoarse. It may have been 42 years since John Lydon first played the 100 Club but at age 62 he leaves the stage appearing more focused on exploring new musical avenues and possibilities than simply re-treading old ones. PiL’s evolution continues.
As Lydon scoots out of the venue, it is left to another person synonymous with the 100 Club to keep the party going as the Clash’s Paul Simonon takes to the decks with Big Audio Dynamite and Dreadzone man, Dan Donovan. They play some old school rock ‘n’ roll classics such as Dion’s ‘Born to Cry’ and Richard Berry’s ‘Louis Louis’; this poses the biggest challenge of the evening, as those twisting on the dance floor try to remain upright, such is the saturated wetness of the floor caused by Lydon & co sending the crowd into a frenzy moments earlier.