Public Image Ltd were, for a short time, the ultimate word in post-punk artistic pursuit. The band, formed largely around the imposing figure of John Lydon—AKA Johnny Rotten—were deliberate and definitive in everything they did, ensuring they were never just a Pistols hangover. However, by 1983, things had begun to change.
We’re dipping into the Far Out Magazine vault to look back at one of those moments as the band enter their ‘cabaret phase’ and perform a series of songs on hit TV show The Tube, including a cover of Lydon’s former band, the Sex Pistols, with a rather terrible performance of ‘Anarchy in the U.K.’
If there’s one place on the internet guaranteed to give you the facts on PiL then it has to be Fodderstompf, the unofficial fansite for the band. As the site so eloquently remembers, Public Image Ltd’s appearance on ‘The Tube’ “frankly, the band are awful.” Looking back it’s hard to disagree, despite Lydon’s protestations that a bout of the flu was keeping his performance below par.
With one of the band’s founding members, and arguably a heavy dose of the ideology that propelled the group to critical success with their previous records, Jah Wobble, leaving the group some years before, by 1983 PiL had begun to fall apart at the seams. Heavy drug use and a lack of commercial success had frayed tensions further and the original intent of the group felt further and further away.
By the time the band were invited to The Tube, quite possibly one of the most beloved music TV shows in British history, PiL were beginning to look like caricatures of themselves. During a decade where reinvention was now the epitome of artistic credentials, Lydon’s new “anti-rock” project had looked to be a breath of fresh air but after years of struggles and strife, the band were now far removed from their fiery beginnings.
It all comes to a head when Lydon and co. take to the stage for The Tube to perform three songs. The band take on ‘This is Not A Love Song’, ‘Anarchy in the UK’ and ‘The Flowers of Romance’ all for a pre-hyped crowd who all look like a CEO have drawn what they tink a punk should look like. As such, they seem to get every moment wrong in the performance.
As well as pogoing like maniacs fro the post-punk drawl of ‘The Flower of Romance’ they also stand almost motionless while doing their best karaoke impressions for the Sex Pistols cover, ‘Anarchy in the UK’. It is this performance that really confirms the slow slide of PiL.
When the band began, the mere mention of Lydon’s former band would have provoked an antagonistic response. Without fail. Now it appeared as though PiL had become another part of the John Lydon steam train and was more than happy to relish in his past glory. The performance became a pastiche of everything that had made punk a movement to be reckoned with.
Most PiL fans will confirm this to be one of the band’s worst performances and a marker of their downfall. Below watch Public Image Ltd perform a cover of Sex Pistols’ classic ‘Anarchy in the UK’.