Jah Wobble began his career in music nearly four decades ago playing bass as a founding member of Public Image Ltd., and his distinctive style served both to set the band apart and to influence an entire generation of musicians. He remained with the band for their first two albums before setting off on his own for a long and prolific career as a solo artist and with his own ever-morphing backing band, The Invaders of the Heart. Wobble released his most recent album, Everything is No Thing, this year, and recently embarked on his first US tour in over a decade. Last Friday, that tour brought him to DC at the Rock and Roll Hotel.
If there’s one thing to be said to sum up Wobble’s music, it’s that he’s unpredictable and eclectic. His most recent wanderings have taken him in the direction of instrumental fusion jazz on this latest album, but in the past he’s done everything from post-punk to dub reggae to world music to electronica. After so long since he’d last come to the US, it was likely that many fans were wondering which of these faces they’d be seeing on this tour – as it turned out, it was a little bit of all of them, as Wobble and his band turned in a long, career-spanning set that included a little bit of everything.
Wobble opened his set with “Cosmic Blueprint” from the new album, but then went all the way back to 1979 with “Socialist,” an instrumental track from PIL’s Metal Box. The set included several covers, ranging from a nearly straight-up (but more guitar-centered) rendition of Roy Budd’s theme from the 1971 movie “Get Carter,” to a practically unrecognizable instrumental arrangement of Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain.” The first part of the set was entirely instrumental, but it took a vocal turn with “Visions of You” (from 1991’s Rising Above Bedlam) and “Becoming More Like God” (from 1994’s Take Me To God). Wobble returned to his Public Image Ltd. days with a dub-inflected version of “Public Image” and at the end of the set with “Poptones” (featuring a pre-recorded, spoken vocal that certainly sounded like John Lydon, at least) and “Fodderstompf.” The band returned to the stage for a rendition of “So Many Years” from 1990’s Without Judgement.
The many faces that Wobble has taken over the years have made for an eccentric discography, yet he and his current band were able to navigate it perfectly, creating a performance that sounded coherent despite its variety. For fans that had been waiting for years for the chance to see him again, it was a perfect evening of music that reminded everyone of why he has become a legend. We can only hope that it won’t be another decade before he comes back to see us again.