Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols didn’t burn out, after all. He just reinvented himself as John Lydon, of Public Image Ltd., which plays at the Showbox Monday, Nov. 23.
Where some musicians peak early only to spend the rest of their careers trying to climb back, few have ever consciously gone farther in the other direction than John Lydon. Music nerds might know the Londoner as the erstwhile leader of post-punk iconoclasts Public Image Ltd (PiL), but to everyone else he’ll always be Johnny Rotten from the Sex Pistols, the sneering voice and face of punk’s first wave.
Pushing 60 but outspoken as ever, Lydon plays Monday (Nov. 23) at the Showbox with the latest incarnation of the anything-goes PiL. He’s used that moniker since 1978, when he left the Pistols, went back to his birth name and began anew with a project that mixed the confrontational and cerebral — a sound we now call post-punk, but that baffled, even enraged, audiences at the time.
Released less than a year apart, the dub bass lines and Krautrock backbeats of the foursome’s first two albums “First Issue” and “Metal Box” churned on and on, guitars chiming noisily, Lydon ranting nasally, still mad as hell — not at the Queen of England anymore, but at the pop-music establishment. The debut album’s punishing nine-minute opener “Theme” was so radio-unfriendly, it made the frontman’s old band sound like the Monkees.
Public Image Ltd
9 p.m. Monday, Nov. 23, at the Showbox, 1426 First Ave., Seattle; $29.50-$35 (206-628-3151 or showboxpresents.com).
PiL’s rhythm-centric approach to songwriting inverted that of the Pistols, Ramones and early Clash — who all played rock ’n’ roll, just faster — and its aesthetic choices questioned how we consume music at home, and in concert. “Metal Box” was issued as three 12-inch records meant to be listened to in any order, packaged, appropriately, inside a metal box resembling a film canister.
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Early live shows consisted of long stretches of mind-numbingly repetitive white noise interrupted by short bursts of poppier material. They even messed with the very idea of what a band is — a company, they called it, hence the “Ltd.”
The group’s golden age didn’t last long — founding bassist Jah Wobble left in ’80, guitarist Keith Levene in ’83 — and save for 1986’s “Album,” an earnest attempt at U2-style stadium rock that holds up surprisingly well, PiL’s ’80s and ’90s output is better left alone.
Still, “First Issue,” “Metal Box” and, of course, “Never Mind the Bollocks” add up to three more classic albums than most artists have ever made. Lydon’s new songs pass muster, too, the wonderfully weird “What the World Needs Now …” having come out this fall to positive reviews.
For vintage punk and post-punk lovers, Monday’s show offers the chance to cap a year in which Gang of Four, The Pop Group and Wire all came through town, with the man who arguably personifies both genres better than anyone.