Riot at the Ritz: The infamous Public Image Ltd. ‘riot show’
08.12.2012
05:27 pm

Topics:
Music
Punk

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John Lydon
Public Image Ltd.

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Although I was told by the guy who actually shot it himself that there was, in fact, a videotape of the legendary Public Image Ltd. “riot” show at New York’s Ritz nightclub in 1981, I’ve never seen it bootlegged anywhere. However there were at least a couple of different audio bootlegs of the show. The one I have is like the one pictured above, a 45 rpm record that came inside of a clear plastic sleeve. It’s chaotic, noisy and difficult to tell what’s going on, yet still really interesting.

The set up was simply that PiL were brought in to hastily replace Bow Wow Wow, who’d screwed over the concert promoters at the last minute. PiL, having no time to rehearse, offered to do a “video performance” using the club’s state of the art video projector, standing behind a screen mixing video, DJing with some live playing.

The following is a description of what actually happened that night, May 15, 1981, as told by Ed Carabello, who arranged the gig. The full article is at Perfect Sound Forever.

“So now it was PIL’s turn to go on. The crowd was really cranky and pissed by then, chanting ‘PIL, PIL, PIL!’ I was in the control booth with my headphones, nice and snug in there in the back of the club with a beautiful view of the audience and the stage: I felt like I was manning the Starship Enterprise. We felt that it would be appropriate to have a video of Lisa Yipp interviewing Keith and John in the trashcan she used for the show. Lisa gets on the headphones and says ‘I’m not going out there- they’re rowdy, they’re screaming!’ I told her ‘you’re a professional, go out there and do it.’ So one of the stage crew drags out the trash can she used for her show with her inside and with the lid on top. The audience looked at it like ‘what the hell’ and she pops out like Oscar the Grouch and says ‘HI, I’M LISA YAPP! I’M HERE TO TALK ABOUT PUBLIC IMAGE LIMITED!’ So now the crowd’s really pissed and they start chanting louder. She starts to give an introduction about the band and we play this interview she did with Keith. In the interview, he’s saying ‘Rock and roll is dead. This is a new age of performance.’ The crowd had it by then. They turned on Lisa for everything that happened. They pelted her with beer bottles but Lisa was such a trooper that she kept going with her introduction. She fended off the bottles with the lid of the trash can like a gladiator shield. Then she says ‘AND HERE’S PUBLIC IMAGE LIMITED!’

The whole band’s behind the screen and Keith starts playing and the drummer’s playing this celtic rhythm to start the show. Then Keith starts playing the record ‘Flowers of Romance.’ He cranked it up and took all the equalization out of it- it sounded so cacaphonous. I started pulsating the parcan lights. It was really eerie and screechy. The crowd just loved it- they fell silent. You just saw the glow and the lights flashing. Keith’s guitar was feeding back, playing off the record that was on and John was just silent throughout this whole thing. He just stood next to Keith. You could only see the silhouettes of them and the projections of them on the screen. The crowd is just loving this, thinking ‘what a great introduction.’

The first song ends and John starts to talk to the audience for the first time. He says ‘sil-ly fuck-ing aud-ience, sil-ly fuck-ing aud-i-ence…’ He’s slowly taunting the audience. Now the crowd’s not quiet anymore. They start chanting ‘raise the screen, raise the screen, raise the screen!’ John’s never been one who likes to be told what to do so he’s chiding the audience. He says what fuckers they were to pay 12 dollars to see this, just taunting the audience. The more they say ‘raise the screen,’ he says ‘we’re not going to raise the fucking screen!’

So the band goes into another song that was this kind of improvisational kind of thing. It seemed to be directed by the drummer! John and Keith were just doing their thing. John made those sounds with his voice, almost like a yodelling type of thing. Keith is doing this screechy, primal sounding thing with his guitar, almost like a jazz number. They go through this and it’s a ten minute number. The crowd is kind of liking it but you could hear them add their two cents by syncopating the rhythm with ‘raise the screen! raise the screen!’ At the end of this, John is really being abusive. So the audience starts pelting the screen with beer bottles. Even in the balconies, they were throwing bottles and some of it was hitting the audience down below. The more that they threw bottles, the more that John would chide them.

The manager of the Ritz comes to me then as I’m the only member of the band that was accessible- everyone else is behind the screen. Jerry says ‘you gotta raise the screen! There’s a riot happening right before our eyes!’ I felt like Nero watching Rome burn, seeing these bottles all over and I never realized how abusive John was to his audience. So I tell Jerry ‘No, I’m not raising it. You should have advertised and said that this wasn’t a concert. It’s a performance art show. That is what it is, that’s what they paid for and that’s what we’re putting on.’ I was guarding the remote control switch, not letting anyone touch it. Jerry kept yelling at me to raise it and I’d yell at him that I wasn’t going to do it.

Then Jerry turns to the crowd and sees something going on as they let out a collective ‘aaah.’ The front of the crowd started pulling on the tarp and I start getting scared because the instruments and amplifier were moving forward like they were going to go into the audience. So Jerry says ‘Are you crazy? Look at that!’ I said ‘you’re probably right.’ So I raised the screen just a little bit, enough to put on the parcans full blast so that we’re blinding the audience with light. For a minute, they shrink back from this huge flash of light. It looked like the screen from ‘Wizard of Oz’ where everyone sees the magical workings of the Wizard, like ‘pay no attention to the PIL behind the screen!’

 
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“Flowers of Romance” (prerecorded)
 

 
“Instrumental”
 

 
“Snyder Redux”
 

 
“Four Enclosed Walls”:
 

 
“There’s A Hole In My Heart”
 

 
“Go Back” (where the abuse starts to get amped up)
 

 
“Happiness”:
 

 
“The End”:
 

 
You can download the entire PiL Ritz riot show at Egg City Radio.

Posted by Richard Metzger

 

 

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