John Lydon's PiL rouse crowd at Leicester gig

John Lydon looks strangely wary as he strides out on stage at the O2 Academy. It seems he found the audience response at the previous night’s gig in Birmingham somewhat disappointing – and the dear old boy has shuffled past 60 now, so maybe the man formerly known as Rotten, tormenter of the establishment since the days of the Sex Pistols, has gone soft? But a warm response from the Leicester crowd gives him a visible lift – and as the gig goes on he gets into his inimitable stride, ramping up his distinctive, intimidatory vocal style and exaggerated mock-dramatic gestures.

Lydon’s a performer who feeds off an audience and demands a response – and as PiL pound through the set list, it’s obvious he’s getting more of what he needs from the Leicester crowd than he did the last night. The band kick off with Albatross, from the classic, recently-reissued Metal Box album – and it sets the musical tone for the evening. Drummer Bruce Smith drives the songs along with bedrock rhythms, while Scott Firth’s pounding basslines make your chest reverberate and guitarist Lu Edmonds adds metal shards of guitar to complete a very tight attack. And then, of course, there’s Mr Lydon – by the time the band have dispatched Double Trouble from the band’s latest album What The World Needs Now and the crowd-pleasing This Is Not a Love Song, he’s beaming. This is more like it – the rabble has been roused, his dander’s up and his mischievous sense of humour is shining through. “Tell me when you think you’ve had your money’s worth and I’ll eff [sic] off,” he smirks, knowing full well he’s got the audience in the palm of his hand and that’s the last thing we want him to do just yet…

The set must have lasted for nearly two hours – I’m not sure, because it turned into one of those nights where time becomes irrelevant. We’re transported back and forth through the years by PiL landmarks – from 1980’s Death Disco to The Body from the album Happy?, back to the band’s 1978 debut album with the searing Religion, then fast-forwarding again to the crowd favourite Rise and Shoom from What The World Needs Now. One of the standout moments is when Lydon repeatedly demands: “Turn up the bass!” towards the end of Death Disco – the sound engineer duly obliges, with the final level resonant enough to make Scott Firth’s pluckings vibrate every single internal organ in your body.

“Back by popular demand!” beams Lydon as the band emerge for a two-number encore – the phrase is delivered as sardonically as ever, but there’s genuine feeling behind it. He knows he and his band have made a roomful of people happy, and as the band leave the stage he pumps his heart with his fist and says: “The world can be full of the right people after all.” He almost seems a bit misty-eyed as he says it – I could be wrong, I could be right…

Whatever the case, cheers John – for a good night out and sending us all home with a smile on our faces.