Back in 1979, on “Rust Never Sleeps,” Neil Young pondered the new phenomenon of punk rock, wondering whether Johnny Rotten would burn out or rust.
Mick Jones and John Lydon (the former Mr. Rotten), two summa cum laude graduates from Britain’s fabled punk-rock class of ’76, were at UC Irvine’s Crawford Hall Thursday night, not yet ready for the ash bin or the scrapheap, but both sounding as if they could use a scrape job and a fresh coat of paint.
Jones, who fronted top-billed Big Audio Dynamite II, and Lydon, leader of Public Image Ltd., actually have tried to follow Young’s own middle course between burnout and rust, which calls for avoidance of repetition while remaining alert to the present. Their respective sets--part of the four-band MTV-sponsored “120 Minutes” alternative-rock tour (which turned out to be a 297-minute endurance test in a muggy college gym)--ignored the punk past.
Instead, they pursued their more recent chosen roles: Lydon, the former Sex Pistol, as amiably dyspeptic clown/curmudgeon, and Jones, the Clash alum, as master of ceremonies at a multicultural dance club called “The Globe” (the title of B.A.D. II’s current album).
On recent albums, including the new “That What Is Not,” Lydon has been able to stay somewhat current by rocking persuasively and directing his still considerable bile toward such germane targets as censors and militarists. But on stage, he was a caricature of himself, concerned with entertaining but not driving home songs. To do it, he donned a ready-made persona.
Lydon, in his familiar flaming Eraserhead ‘do, went into his usual assortment of moves. He sang with mad theatricality, as if he were auditioning for the role of Caligula in a remake of “I, Claudius.” He rolled his eyes and made clawing gestures with his hands. For new tricks, he tossed crumpled greenbacks to the stage-side multitudes and mooned the audience--twice. He also hectored the crowd into extended call-and-response yell-alongs during “Disappointed” and “Rise,” two of the more familiar songs in a set given largely to the new album. “Anger is an energy” was the repeat-after-me refrain from the encore number, “Rise.” But there was no legitimate anger in any part of PiL’s performance; Lydon, now as predictable a trouper as Ray Davies of the Kinks, might as well have been leading the fans in a round of “Lola, lo-lo-lo-lo-Lola.” PiL’s four-man instrumental unit did nothing to push or inspire its leader, going through routine Cult-ish hard-rock paces.
The show did provide the evening’s only bit of punk nostalgia, when somebody in the audience gobbed Lydon in the face (which was better than what happened at his 1989 Crawford Hall visit, when he was hit by a hurled bottle). Lydon bawled out the offender and called for his ouster--the only moment that really was energized by his anger.
The efforts by B.A.D. II to turn its show into a kinetic dance-party succeeded in motivating half the crowd half the time. The other half left, either because of the lateness of the hour or the inconsistency of the performance. Jones wasn’t a very imaginative or lively host. He stitched together the music with flat song introductions of the “this is from our first album” ilk.
B.A.D. came off as a potentially good live guitar-rock band lost in a chaotic musical supermarket stocked with too many canned goods. Just when Jones and his three new cohorts in the revamped band would start to kick hard in real time, recorded keyboard textures and riffs, rhythm parts and muffled audio bites generated by an adjunct deejay/sound mixer would cut in and hog the musical space. Jones has often been an effective singer but never a vocal powerhouse. At Crawford, the sonic density overpowered him.
The answer might be a Bigger Audio Dynamite, with real keyboard players, an extra percussionist and perhaps a female vocalist to bring immediacy and live intensity to the funk/rock/hip-hop blend. It would also help if somebody in this would-be dance band could actually dance. Jones’ new partners, all young, were a faceless and timid lot. Still, “The Globe” marks a strong comeback from B.A.D.'s tepid previous album, “Megatop Phoenix” (made by Jones and the old lineup). The B.A.D. experiment would be worth pursuing with a larger live troupe.
The program’s most honed and energized playing came from Live, a band of 20-year-olds from York, Pa. In an intense 35 minutes, Live offered driving drums and slashing guitar a la U2; a pliant, funk-informed bass, and an impassioned singer in Edward Kowalczyk, whose husky, high-impact voice sounded like Michael Stipe on steroids. On its album, “Mental Jewelry,” Live eventually wears out its welcome with constant earnest wheedling about great existential and spiritual questions. A half hour of it went down well.
Opening band Blind Melon’s singer, Shannon Hoon, provided backup vocals on Guns N’ Roses’ “Use Your Illusion” opus. But in his own band he was the weak link, with a voice that turned hoarse and failed to muster power or hold pitch. Blind Melon compensated with an appealing guitar-led instrumental mix that incorporated the loose rhythms and improvisational feel of the Allman Brothers Band and the Grateful Dead (and, in its less engaging heavy passages, Humble Pie). Yet another young band mining the early ‘70s--but this one had a fluid approach marked by tempo shifts and oft-changing dynamics, including some well-wrought delicate passages that took gumption to do before an audience of strangers. Assuming that Hoon was having an off night rather than a typical one, Blind Melon, which has a debut album in the works, could bear watching.
O.C. POP DATE BOOK
Tickets go on sale today for two Irvine Meadows shows: Rush and Mr. Big on June 3, and Hank Williams Jr., Patty Loveless and Doug Stone on June 19. . . . The Winans Family Tour--with BeBe and CeCe, Mom & Pop and Daniel Winans--comes to the Celebrity Theatre in Anaheim May 10. Tickets go on sale today . . . . The Coach House has added Fourplay, the jazz conglomeration featuring Lee Ritenour, Bob James, Nathan East and Harvey Mason, for April 12. Journalist Hunter S. Thompson’s show at the Coach House has been rescheduled for April 16.