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‘Lou Reed part 2’: Little-known Public Image Ltd. footage from 1982
04.10.2014
11:55 am

Topics:
Music
Punk

Tags:
John Lydon
PiL
Keith Levene
Public Image Ltd.


 
When I was a kid, more than any other group, Public Image Ltd. were my band. As a teenager, I was a major acidhead who hated religion and PiL suited that state of mind better than just about anything. They were demented dada geniuses, doing more to move music away from the three chord blues-based rock and roll that had dominated popular music since the days of Chuck Berry than anyone else. It wasn’t as if John Lydon’s previous outfit had done much to musically challenge the status quo. The Sex Pistols may have shown that the prevailing rock acts of the day were all “dinosaurs,” but their music really wasn’t anything all that “new” was it?

Who would say that about Public Image Ltd.? With their second album, Metal Box, they changed the state of modern music the way Picasso and Georges Braque had changed the act of perception itself with the advent of Cubism some seventy years earlier. After PiL, everything was different and nothing was too weird. A hundred years from now those first three PiL albums will still be revered the same way they are today, except that by then they’ll considered classical music or something…

I was lucky enough to see PiL in 1983. I’d run away from home and PiL were playing a few days later on Staten Island at the horrible, decrepit and just downright shitty Paramount Theater (a venue that should have required a tetanus shot to enter). Jah Wobble had already been kicked out of the band, but that didn’t bother me (I’m probably just slightly more partial to The Flowers of Romance than I am the first two albums) and this was a few months before Keith Levene and Lydon had their famous falling out.

Without Wobble you still had PiL, but as Lydon would soon prove beyond all argument, he was only as good (or as bad) as his collaborators. When Keith Levene fucked off, forget it, after that it was Public Image Ltd. in name only. Not that Levene did much of anything—for years decades—without Lydon anyway, but Lydon without Levene was hopeless, a fucking joke from 1983 onwards if you ask most fans of the original group.

I’ve mentioned on the blog before that I have a pretty decent collection of PiL bootlegs on vinyl. Truly “oldschool” boots produced over thirty years ago, most of them pretty primitive pressings. When I got rid of most of my records ten years ago (keeping collectibles and signed pieces, plus my Jeannie C. Riley albums) I still retained them and as a percentage, they comprise a good bit of what’s left of a once ridiculously huge record collection. One of them is a boot of the actual show I saw called “Where Are We?” taped on March 26th, at the Paramount Theater.

The title comes from a song PiL had been playing in their sets around that time that was originally called “Lou Reed Part 2” and then later rechristened “Where Are You?” (the spiteful lyrics are about departed PiL video maker Jeanette Lee). It came out on both Lydon’s “official” This is What You Want, This is What You Get album and Levene’s less official version on the Commercial Zone bootleg.

This 1982 report from Canadian television about PiL’s first performance in the country, at Toronto’s Masonic Temple Concert Hall, features a short excerpted performance of “Lou Reed Part 2/Where Are You?” and during it someone spits right in Lydon’s face. He’s not happy. At the end of the piece there’s a bigger chunk of a live “Public Image.” With so little decent footage of PiL around—I’ve seen very little video of the post Wobble group—this is a real treat. Lydon’s sporting a hospital gown and looks, as he often did in his youth, like an escaped mental patient.

I don’t know exactly what he means by this, but if you click over to Keith Levene’s website, he’s trying to raise the funds to “finish” Commercial Zone 2014. For a guy who was so, er, quiet, throughout most of the past three decades, for the past few years, Levene seems intent on making up for lost time, recording and gigging with Jah Wobble, releasing solo material and writing his life story, the nicely titled, This is not an Autobiography: The Diary of a non-Punk Rocker, available soon as an e-book.
 

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
PiL rarity ‘Steel Leg Vs. The Electric Dread’ is the missing link between ‘First Issue’ & ‘Metal Box


 
The folks at Light in the Attic Records were kind enough to send me their nicely packaged recent reissue of PiL’s landmark First Issue album—the record that was thee line of demarcation between punk rock and post punk music—and I’ve been listening to it a lot lately. It also caused me to go dig up some PiL stuff I haven’t listened to in a while.

When I was a kid, PiL were probably my main group (tied with Throbbing Gristle) and I even ran away from home, in part, so I could see them play in New York (it’s a long story). Along the way, I have collected a lot of PiL bootlegs and I still have every one of them, despite getting rid of 99% of my vinyl many moons ago. One of my favorite PiL rarities, though, isn’t a bootleg at all, it’s the one-off 12” EP that was released by Virgin in 1978 under the title Steel Leg Vs. The Electric Dread.

The EP was recorded at Gooseberry Sound Studios (the same cheap reggae studio where PiL finished off their debut album after spending all the money) by Jah Wobble, “Stratetime Keith” (Keith Levene), Don Letts and Don’s pal Vince Bracken, called here “Steel Leg.” The hooded figure on the cover was long rumored to be John Lydon but he had no involvement with this record whatsoever according to the PiL fansite Fodderstompf.
 

 
Nothing earth-shatteringly brilliant here—it’s damned good, though, I’ll go that far—but Steel Leg vs. The Electric Dread‘s four free-form, anarchic numbers most certainly point the way for what was to come next with the deliriously dumbfounding dub-heavy genius of 1979’s enigmatic Metal Box.

“Haile Unlikely by The Electric Dread”

“Unlikely Pub”

“Steel Leg”

“Stratetime And The Wide Man”

Here’s what Seth The Man wrote in his inimitable way on Julian Cope’s Head Heritage website. Pure rock snob poetry, I love this guy:

It goes beyond mere punky reggae partying—it’s a PiL t-shirt worn by Syd “Family Man” Barrett with the words “D-U-B” replacing “P-i-L,” as the Finsbury Park crew’s ancestral memories of multiple Hawkwind records works its way through the mix with electronics like Dik Mik meets The Aggrovators.

Although long an impossibly rare item to find, the Steel Leg vs. The Electric Dread EP was released on CD in 2005 along with two PiL-related tracks by Vivien Goldman (see below) and (not PiL-related) tracks by Glaxo Babies, Les Vampyrettes (a Holgar Czukay and Conny Plank team-up) and This Heat’s 15-minite-long epic “Graphic Varispeed” as The Post Punk Singles Volume One.

And speaking of the new Light in the Attic release of First Issue, it is incidentally, the first US release of the album. (First Issue was so heavily imported at the time of its original 1978 release that Warner Bros. Records opted not to even bother releasing it here because they thought the market had already been tapped out for an album deemed far too uncommercial for most Americans). The packaging is quite nice and stays true to the original release. “The Cowboy Song,” the B-side to the “Public Image” single is included on a second CD along with an extended 1978 interview with Lydon conducted by Vivien Goldman that’s quite fascinating [In it, Lydon makes an obviously knowing aside about the horrific BBC sex predator Jimmy Savile.]

I compared the new CD to the older UK Virgin disc that’s been on the market for ages and found that they sound noticeably different, although it would be a matter of taste to say which is better. The older disc has more raw THUMP to it, especially in the drums, and there is slightly more distortion present than on the newly mastered version. The new CD, well, here the drums CRACK across your eardrums more, and the bass is tighter. Usually when I A/B CDs, there’s a clear winner, but I can’t say that in the case of the older 80s CD versus the newly minted First Issue package from Light in the Attic (which comes with PiL decals, too), because I like them both. If I had to pick one, it would be the new one, just for the attention to detail in the packaging and the extras.

“Death Disco” on TOTP, 1980

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
This Is Not A Tutorial: Keith Levene teaches you how to play PiL songs on guitar
04.05.2013
11:48 am

Topics:
Music

Tags:
PiL
Keith Levene
Public Image Ltd.


 
You have to love it when a budding guitar player can email a master like PiL and Clash co-founder Keith Levene—the Hendrix of the post-punk era—asking “how do you do that?” and get a reply like this one!

In 2010, Levene gave “Justin” advice on how to play “Annalisa” and “Poptones” by recording himself and uploading it to YouTube.

Keith Levene’s new release Search4AbsoluteZero is available now for download through his Murder Global website.

Follow Keith Levene on Twitter.
 

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
Raw footage of John Lydon and Keith Levene at MTV interview, 1982
01.02.2013
07:49 am

Topics:
Heroes
Music

Tags:
John Lydon
Keith Levene
Public Image Ltd.


 
Fascinating unedited raw footage of a 1982 JJ Jackson interview of Public Image Ltd’s John Lydon and Keith Levene at MTV’s studio. Jackson’s questions are a lot better than you might expect them to be (he absolutely knew what he was talking about).

I’ve never seen Keith Levene more loquacious and animated in a vintage interview. He even talks briefly about his tenure in the Clash during the second part.

Lydon had just come off filming Corrupt with Harvey Keitel in Rome. Of course he tries to pull his patented obnoxious routine with Jackson, but the well-researched MTV VJ plays it cool and manages to get a good interview out of him.

At the beginning, and near the end, after a few minutes of silence, you can hear what they were talking about off-camera.
 

 
Part II is here.

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
Keith Levene of PiL on why he quit The Clash
01.21.2011
07:13 pm

Topics:
History
Music

Tags:
The Clash
Keith Levene
Public Image Ltd.

image
 
As some of you reading this well know, and others will not, Keith Levene, later of Public Image Ltd., was an early member of The Clash. So why did he leave “the only band that matters”?

Taken from an Interview with Keith Levene on the Punk77 website:

“Anyway, my heart wasn’t in The Clash sound at all—I remember going to rehearsals and just being so depressed about their sound. They got it so wrong man, they thought I was depressed because I was having a bad amphetamine come down. So it happened like this :one day, I get to the rehearsal room which is this dark, damp room—the band are sitting around, playing tunes from The Stooges and The MC5 and King Tubby’s Hi Fi on their little cassette machine, waiting for me to arrive cos I’m late as usual. We plug in and start playing, and I remember Joe Strummer poking me in the arm and going, “Look Keith, just what is wrong with you man, are you into this or not”. I’m not into it, so I just leave my guitar up against the amp, feedback howling back like mad, like white noise, and I just walk out. I can still hear that feedback whine as I leave the studio and walk onto the street. Fuck them. And they thought it was a bad speed come down. You wanna know the truth? The truth is I hated their sound. Even though I wrote some of their first album, I can’t listen to it. That’s the truth. There is the printed version of what happened, and then there is the real version of what happened. It didn’t bother me when I left The Clash, not at all. I mean, how could I be in a band which played songs like ‘White Riot’! Fuck off! What did we have to riot about? Then there were the fucking stupid lyrics like “No Elvis, no Beatles and the Rolling Stones.” Fuck off! I didn’t want anything to do with it. Then there was some bullshit like Mick Jones told me he predicted the death of Elvis. Bullshit.”

Tell us how you really feel, Keith!

Below, Levene with PiL performing “Chant” on a TV show called Check It Out before the group storms out of the interview.
 

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
Public Image Ltd. - Death Disco (1979)

image
 
As the current iteration of Public Image Ltd. continue to provide an evidently very satisfying P.i.L. experience at a venue near you i happened to stumble upon this 1979 promo clip that I’d never managed to see before. The song title as well as being self descriptive of the music points to the anguished cry of grief over Lydon’s dying mother reflected in the totally non-ironic lyrics. Keith Levene’s guitar and synths, which the 2010 stand-in guy approximates sort of  are brittle, grievous subconscious shards of memory decorating the sparse dub-influenced underpinning. Slick it up for the kids all you like, this song is bulletproof.
 

Posted by Brad Laner | Leave a comment
Public Image Limited Regroups, Fans Rejoice/Despair
09.08.2009
11:34 am

Topics:
Music

Tags:
Johnny Rotten
PiL
Keith Levene
Jah Wobble
Metal Box

image
 
Keith Levene and Jah Wobble won’t be attending, but, since Metal Box is turning 30 (!), chances look good for a live Poptones (see below).  From today’s NYT:

John Lydon, the former frontman for the Sex Pistols, who is better known as Johnny Rotten, told The Guardian newspaper that his band Public Image Limited, or PiL, is back after a 17-year break.  Though fans will have to do without two original band members, Jah Wobble and Keith Levene, the guitarist Lu Edmonds returns in the reincarnation, along with the drummer Bruce Smith.  A five-date tour is to begin in December with a new member, Scott Firth, and a couple of other changes, it seems.  ?

Posted by Bradley Novicoff | Leave a comment