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"It's Like An 80s Movie": Public Image Limited at the Crofoot by DC-in-Detroit

DC is a longtime contributor to the MCB
She can be reached at [at]

John Lydon wants nothing to come between you and him. No record labels. No opening acts. No attitude.

Okay, maybe attitude. Just don't talk during his show. Or lean on his stage.

PiL rolled into Pontiac on 28 April, 18 years to the day from their last Detroit show, so the legend goes. I can buy it; I can also believe that half the crowd last night was at that show, too. I personally talked to a good handful of people who had seen PiL in the 80s and a couple who had seen them in the 70s.

That's a hint that this crowd wasn't what one may have anticipated. I was expecting the hardcores, those crusty punks that periodically emerge from the mists of time to appear at local shows, only to immediately vanish with the sound of the last sacred chord; the ones I always wonder where the hell they are the rest of the time. (They can't ALL work at Noir Leather, can they?) But no. This was a mature, energetic crowd, happy to be out on a weeknight, and fully in the palm of the legendary John "Don't Call Him Johnny" Lydon.

Doors were at 8, and I was pulling up to the Crofoot at around 9 to find a line of people around the edge of the building. "The show is NOT sold out!" the wrangler announced, to calm us down. That worked for a minute... until at 9:12 the unmistakable squall that begins "This Is Not A Love Song" came rolling out of the open doors.

Aaaaahhhh! We're still outside!!

Before we instigated a trampling situation, our helpful wrangler once again announced, "They're doing a TWO HOUR SET. You have plenty of time!" The beasts, we were soothed. And, spoiler alert! They played two STRONG hours, without a break (other than Lydon's periodic Hennessy gargles).

I slid in to the Crofoot to an unfamiliar sight: A full venue. I like the Crofoot Ballroom as a theatre -- nice open main room, catwalk upstairs for the sitty-types, easy bar access. It's laid out very much like the main room at St Andrew's, but smaller, cleaner and with better parking. I've seen several shows there over the past year, but I've never been in the room this full. I loved it. And with PiL absolutely blasting the shit out of the place, it felt a little like home.

They got us stragglers (I was there by 9!) inside by the third song, and by then, Lydon was already hollering at some sap on the upper level. I missed the grievous offense for which he was being punished, but couldn't keep myself from cracking up at Lydon, on the mic, sneering at the guy "we didn't come here to listen to you talk! you cunt!" That quickly answered one question of the night -- did he still have that attitude? Yes. Yes he did. On the other hand, Lydon quickly broke into a broad smile after his little tirade. Could it be... theater? Whatever it was, it was working. The near-capacity crowd was all his.

John Lydon is a charismatic motherfucker. The term "larger than life" is pretty well applied here, as it always has been. Even beyond the crazy eyes and screechy-warble, it's hard to take your eyes off him. Whether you're a fan of his or not, you're at least probably hoping you stay on his good side.

Not that he was alone up there. The "and the rest" of PiL have been on the roster since the 1980s (but for a new bassist) and should really not be glossed over. An incredibly talented group of men putting out a LOT of sound.

Awash in all that sound, feeling both nostalgic and modern, I was re-anchored to the room by the appearance of a friend who had driven 200 miles that night just for the show. (Well, also maybe to escape Dayton.) He'd somehow managed to drag himself away from the bouncy-but-not-thrashy front floor to my eye-on-the-crowd perch at the main bar -- and I'm glad he did; these things are always better when shared. After some mutual wonderment at the awesomeness of the show, some jokes at the headliner's expense ("I was going to ask if you think John still has his voice, but John never really HAD a voice, did he?") and a little bit of canoodling, he remarked, "This is like an 80s movie!"

"But which of us is from the wrong side of the tracks?" I asked.

"...Have you ever BEEN to Dayton??"

He was right, though. The night made me think of the idealized, well-lit and -polished version of punk and new wave in the 80s -- no dressed-up anger, no spoiled boredom, just a lot of bouncy people, smashed into one big room, each waiting for his or her own anthem to hit the soundtrack. (I got mine with "Flowers of Romance.")

For two strong hours, it was 1986 for all of us.

Photos by MCB's Brett Lawrence

P.S. This photo of Brett's makes a perfect iPhone wallpaper!