After five years of waiting, Washington finally got its chance to see Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols when the punk singer appeared under his real name, John Lydon, with his new band, Public Image Ltd., at Ritchie Coliseum last night. Lydon never has been a singer in the melodic sense, but his screeching, whining wails did have a strangely mesmerizing effect. Unfortunately, Lydon's undeniable stage charisma was undermined by his narcissism and nihilism, the same qualities that ultimately made the Sex Pistols an unimportant band.
Public Image lacked the Sex Pistols' greatest asset: novelty. Public Image is just another punk-funk band. It does, however, have the musical talent that the Pistols so sorely lacked. Bassist Peter Jones and especially drummer Martin Atkins churned up a steady funk groove that surrounded a compelling dance beat with secondary accents. Keith Levene applied layers of droning, squealing guitar and synthesizer, while Lydon screamed catch phrases with manic intensity. It was music that commanded attention, but it was hollow at the center. Much overrated as a punk pioneer, Lydon has never shown the idealism of the Clash (with whom Levene once played), the humanism of X or even the humor of the Ramones. Starting two hours late and often ignoring the audience while on stage, Public Image proved as humorless and condescending as Rush or Pink Floyd.