LIVE: Jah Wobble & The Invaders of the Heart – The Wardrobe, Leeds, 24/11/2023

LIVE: Jah Wobble & The Invaders of the Heart – The Wardrobe, Leeds, 24/11/2023

To the casual observer such was the hugely influential impact of Public Image Ltd (PiL) you could quite easily believe that Jah Wobble’s career in music began and ended with his time spent playing bass guitar in that seminal band. He had formed PiL in 1978 with the former Sex Pistols’ singer John Lydon, guitarist Keith Levene, and drummer Jim Walker but was to leave two years later. Wobble is out on tour right now with his current band The Invaders of the Heart and on several of these dates they are performing the Metal Box Rebuilt In Dub, reinterpreting the music from PiL’s groundbreaking second album.

Yet since that time and despite a brief sojourn from the music industry in the mid-80s – including stints working for London Underground and driving a mini cab  – Jah Wobble has released more than 60 albums, either on his own, with The Invaders of the Heart, or in collaboration with countless others including such luminaries as musically diverse as The EdgeHolger Czukay and Jaki Liebezeit from the German experimentalists CanBrian EnoBill LaswellLoneLady, and Sinéad O’Connor. His prolificacy is matched only by the bewildering range of styles he has approached from post-punk to ambient spoken word, world roots to covers of film and TV tunes, English folk to avant-garde jazz, and reggae to Chinese dub, all produced with his customary ear for invention and intrigue. 

Jah Wobble

Leeds is not one of the Metal Box shows. Instead we get a wonderful broad section of material from right across Jah Wobble’s recording career, two hours and forty minutes worth, no less, interspersed by bursts of his irreverent self-deprecation and a spontaneous line in stand-up comedy. The latter includes a hilarious anecdote about how he inadvertently removed the toilet cistern from the cubicle of a motorway service station latrine as well as an impromptu impersonation of some drunken geezer out on a Saturday night on the council estate where he grew up.

Jah Wobble and the Invaders of the Heart – featuring Martin Chung on guitar, drummer Marc Layton-Bennett, and  keyboard player George King – open with ‘Becoming More Like God’, drawn from what Wobble describes as the “90’s purple patch” of his career. By the time they reach ‘Socialist’ – the first song to appear from Metal Box – he has removed his jacket and tells us “we’re just warming up now.” His trademark fedora and the glove on his right hand remain reassuringly in place all night, but he stays true to his assertion as they launch into not one, but two versions of ‘Public Image’, the debut single from Public Image Ltd that announced their arrival in October 1978. On tonight’s second version, at Wobble’s request, the bass guitar is “reaching an appropriate level” – in other words, plumbing eardrum-threatening subterranean depths – and his heavily reverberative spoken word vocals are “spinning into infinity.”

‘Poptones’, complete with some delightful jazz inflections from George King, and a truly thunderous ‘The Suit’ ensure that the Metal Box is well represented tonight. The late 60’s reggae classic ‘The Liquidator’ from Harry J All Stars is given a glorious dub overhaul before Jah Wobble and the Invaders of the Heart are joined on stage by Wobble’s wife Zi Lan Liao and their two sons who add some sublime Chinese harp, Chinese violin, and percussion to what is already an intoxicating sound. ‘Java’ from the Jamaican roots reggae and dub record producer, Augustus Pablo is then put through its considerable paces before the full ensemble treat us to a radical reworking of Fleetwood Mac’s‘The Chain’, a brilliant sonic juxtaposition that reflects Jah Wobble’s innate musical diversity and his fantastic sense of fun. Just as he had accurately predicted on the title of his debut solo album, The Legend Lives On

Jah Wobble and Zi Lan Liao

Photos: Simon Godley

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