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pilThe O2 Forum Kentish Town, London, UK
16th June 2022
PiL & Brix Smith

I did not expect to be covering this show ladies and gentlemen, it was a last minute thing to email in press accreditation, I have plenty to be getting on with anyway so I didn’t expect any response at all. But a reply came, and quickly too in the affirmative. After reading through the conditions of the accreditation, downloading, printing and signing, I made my way to the venue and went through the usual rigmarole before being directed to where I needed to be.

They didn’t know that I’ve been here before. So, I exit the foyer and down the side of the building I go towards the right side of the stage and enter the area where the photographers corral is situated. Yeah, yeah I know, “three songs no flash” and “don’t forget to stick your pass on your person so we know who you are”. Yep, got it. So anyway, once in I have a look around, get my bearings and get my camera ready for the evening’s entertainment. There’s a fair few people in already but it’s not full yet, of course it’s not, the support hasn’t even taken to the stage yet. But there’s a buzz in the air, groups talking away, couples conversing and persons on their lonesome scanning their surroundings like hawks on the lookout for prey. The balcony is buzzing too and plenty of PIL couture is on show whether over skinny or corpulent belly. Shhh, the first act takes the stage.

Brix Smith

Brix Smith is the former wife of the late THE FALL frontman Mark E Smith. She was also the lead guitarist and a major songwriter for the band, writing most of the music for the band’s 1985 album ‘The Nation’s Saving Grace’. After divorcing Mark and leaving the band in 1989 she has had other projects on the go that include THE ADULT NET and BRIX & THE EXTRICATED along with solo work and non-musical activities. Did I mention that she also auditioned to replace Kristen Pfaff as HOLE’s bassist after Pfaff died? And there’s the dalliance with that wizard of Violinary (I just made that word up) Nigel Kennedy. For more information you can visit: Anyway, tonight is my first experience of Brix Smith so here, with further ado, is what I thought…

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Music & Performance
The sound to start with was awful like it was the last time I was here a few years ago. On that occasion, VENTENNER was the support act of SKINNY PUPPY. It was tinny and lacking in punch throughout ‘Aphrodite’, ‘Fast Net’ and ‘Black Rainbow Sky’. In mitigation, the venue was not full yet, plenty of people were in but they were spread out like the winter coat on a Musk Ox as it thins for summer. Brix spent a while setting up songs with explanations as to what inspired them. Normally I don’t like artists who go off on rants, chats, explanations etc., I just prefer them to get on with it to keep things fluid and flowing. But tonight I was not too bothered with the talking because it’s helped me with this review. California is a dystopia at the moment, and if you watch the news you’d surely agree with that. The song inspired by this fact is not surprisingly called ‘California Smile’. The crowd now is starting to fill out, two girls in front of me are dancing, arms aloft and devoid of self-consciousness, the song is received well by the crowd who applaud appreciatively.

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As I look around the crowds are thickening up nicely. The bobbing heads and gyrating hips increase, the bodies slowly removing the tininess from the sound as the soft bodies absorb the sound. The next track is a nod back to the days of THE FALL and Brix last played ‘Totally Wild’ way back in the 90s at this very venue. The atmosphere is increasing now, phones are coming out quicker than blooms popping in the summer sun. It’s bloody annoying especially when the person right in front of you keeps their phone up for what seems like hours without any sign of muscle fatigue. Yeah, the sound is much more pleasing now. I found myself incapable of stopping my legs from twitching in time to the music.

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When ‘Living Through My Despair’ was played virtually all the tininess had gone and the crowd dancing had radiated from the front all the way back to where the mixing desk was, possibly beyond but I couldn’t see that far back. The crowd was warming nicely when the next track ‘Say I’m Your Number One’ started. This melodious jingly-jangly track is duetted with Suzanna Hoffs on an album somewhere apparently. I’m not sure whether it's a new album yet to be released or an old one. That bit I didn’t catch over the crowd noise. Anyway, the last song was called ‘Black Butterfly’ and was about metamorphosis. It alludes to the past two years of the pandemic and how we have changed as people and as a society. Whether for good or for bad, we’ve changed, there’s no getting around that. And so ended my first experience of Brix Smith.

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In summary, it was all right. Once the sound morphed into something akin to what I like then the enjoyment quotient increased and I found myself getting into it. Further listening will be had!

01. Aphrodite
02. Fast Net
03. Black Rainbow Sky
04. California Smile
05. Valley Girl
06. All My Love
07. Totally Wired ( The Fall)
08. Living Through My Despair
09. Say I’m Your Number One
10. Black Butterfly

Music: 7
Performance: 8
Light: 9
Sound: 7
Total: 7.5 / 10

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John Lydon was the lead singer of the seminal Punk band THE SEX PISTOLS, for those who don’t know. He wrote a ditty called ‘God Save The Queen’ way back in 1977 and emoted the words “Do you ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?”. John Lydon is an intriguing character. Honest and fearless. Witty and charming, charismatic with a breadth of opinion that many find galling. That’s the Punk, of course, doing what you want and thinking what you think, fuck everyone else. The honesty is refreshing to hear today when everyone else is chained to groupthink, totally ignoring their own enslavement whilst whining about someone else’s from 150 years ago. No pretence, no fake airs, and graces. PIL formed when I was 11 and the first track I heard was ‘This Is Not A Love Song’ five years later. Even though I’m not a hard-core PIL fan, every now and again something would peak my interest, a bit like dropping a sherbet dib dab in a beef stew and seeing what transpires. His voice is melodically sneering, resonant and echoey. But also knowingly cheeky like there’s a joke that you are too slow to get. Keep up.

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Music & Performance
The Kentish Town Forum is bursting now and the atmosphere is very good, good natured in fact. The band take to the stage, John Lydon looks overdressed in a shapeless pastel tartan suit ensemble with braces hanging from the waist, it looks clown-like, the only thing missing is the red nose. A theme for the whole evening starts here, the constant spitting and nostril clearing. He has a dose of the lurgy you see, not Covid we are told but still, it must have put the fear of god into many in the front row. There were a few people wearing masks throughout the whole set including two photographers in the pit. I bet they are glad they came prepared. From the photographers corral to the right of the stage as you look at it you could see the spray of gob and nose mucus fall to the stage floor with stray drops wafting out towards the audience. If you caught Covid or just the flu you can boast in the pub for years that “I caught some shit from John Lydon”…

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So, anyway, ‘Religion II’ starts off the nights entertainment, I’m listening and snapping away in the photographers pit when I hear “Eh you in the yellow shirt, fuck off!!” I turn around and a security guy is leaning into the crowd, he turns around with a look on his face like a small child being scolded and stops what he was doing and disappears. I never saw him again! The set moves forward through ‘Memories’ and ‘The Body’, the sound hypnotically groovy whilst the vocal swirls around in its familiar distant, dissonant melodiousness. ‘Warrior’ continues the grooviness with lots of spitting. The crowd is now coordinated into a bout of synchronized head bopping which morphs into loud applause at the end. I think it’s safe to say that the crowd were appreciative of that. The next song, ‘Corporate’ has bass so loud I feel my atoms vibrating within and my hair is blowing backwards. It feels like I’m being shaken awake and then slapped around the face.

The whole setlist spans the whole life of PIL from pre hiatus and post hiatus, the early part of the set is mainly groovy, thoughtful and hypnotic. The well-known tracks that even non PIL fans would know are not played until the end. John has flu, as I mentioned earlier. The nose clearing and spitting continues throughout and to me it seems as if his energy is peaking and toughing. There are moments when his voice loses its strength, John does say at one point that his breath is wanting. He had stripped off the pastel suit by this time and you could see the huge sweat patch on the back of his yellow check shirt. I was hot down where I was standing, Gawd knows what he was feeling up there with layers and lurgy!! But kudos for soldiering on!

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‘The Room I Am In’ reminds me of THE DOORS. It’s contemplatively stoner and questioning. It’s a room within a room within a room within a room within a room, you get the picture, like over thought details spewed forth whilst in a spiff induced haze. When the opening bass punches of ‘Death Disco’ started the heavy groove transferred itself into the hips of a crowd standing near me. It didn’t build up, it just happened, as if the first note was imbibed with the whole essence of the song. They knew, they just knew! After renditions of ‘U.S.L.S.1’ (from the album ‘9’), ‘Bags’ (album), ‘Chant’ (‘Metal Box’) and ‘Disappointed’ (‘9’) which by the way I like because the of the upbeat disdain in its delivery, we end up at  the lampooning ‘This Is Not A Love Song’ just after 10pm. A couple next to me become animated as the energy goes up. Another woman shimmies as her partner puts his hands on her shoulders and shims in unison. I look around at the wavy hands and the phones taking stills and recording video to put on the Facebook pages later on…

The final track in the regular set is ‘Public Image’. The broken glass guitars and pumping and pummelled bass get the energy levels up once more in readiness for the encore to come. For the first time during the set beer is thrown at the stage but it falls short. An act of defiance in these sanitized times when the security walk around making sure that everyone behaves themselves and expresses their rebellion responsibly. Compared to a gig 20/30 years ago the fist-pumping was a bit tame, but the times, eh?

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And on to the encore… the encore starts off with a song dedicated to Danny Boyle and his selling out to the corporate behemoth that is Disney. I’m not even going to bother emboldening the word. ‘Shoom’ is all bollocks and “What the world needs now is another fuuuuck Oooooff”. He hates Danny Boyle, so he does! Lu Edmonds changes from a guitar to a Bouzouki which brings some eastern culture to the proceedings whilst the crowd join in with the “Fuuuuck Oooofffss”. Even though he’s ill the intensity ramps up now! The crowd are like atoms gently heated over an open fire. The penultimate track is the LEFTFIELD cover ‘Open Up’ which does what it says on the tin, it opens you up. If you weren’t already you are now. The eastern feel to this track gives off a shivering warmth that conjures images of low hot sun and sand dunes, moisture hanging on foliage and deep blue skies. It’s morphically expansive. John Lydon’s unique vocal style fits like a hand in a well fitted glove. ‘Rise’ ends the proceedings rousing the crowd into a sing along. It's as if this is all they were waiting for. Job done! John Lydon names his co-conspirators, the crowd  applauds and then they are gone.

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In summary, the smell of Vicks nasal spray and gob is left hanging in the air as I exit the building. I walk up the street thinking that I must go and buy some Flash cleaner for my floor whilst “FUUUUUUCK OOOOOFFFF!!” repeats itself between my ears. The show was energetic and lethargic, hypnotic and groovy but somehow, I thought to myself as I walked up the street, Jo Quail would not have been spitting and nose clearing all over her cello as she prepared herself for a rendition of ‘The Cartographer’. If she did that would be bloody hilarious *lol*! I was reminded also of a band I saw at a festival a few years back who released a video to some song where they spat on a sheet of glass and the camera followed it trail as it snaked its way down the glass. The image makes me gag. Anyway, that was an interesting bag of charismatic biscuits. I’m glad I got the chance to experience it!

01. Religion II
02. Memories
03. The Body
04. Warrior
05. Corporate
06. The Room I Am In
07. The One
08. Death Disco
09. U.S.L.S.1
10. Bags
11. Chant
12. Disappointed
13. This Is Not a Love song
14. Public Image
15. Shoom
16. Open Up (Leftfield cover)
17. Rise

Music: 8
Performance: 8
Light: 9
Sound: 9
Total: 8.5 / 10

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All pictures by Claudia Black
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