All around, fortysomething men sporting bellies the size of Brazil laugh dank phlegmy laughs and fart horrible gassy farts. For 30 excruciating minutes the crowd boo drum’n’bass support act Goldie with jibes of, “Who the fuck are you?” and spit squarely in each other’s faces while the headliners’ road crew frantically drape flags emblazoned with the St George’s Cross over every available surface. You get the suspicion that, all around the world from Baghdad to Beirut, people are offering thanks that they’re not here tonight. It not only marks the lowest point yet in the Sex Pistols’ legend, but has as much to do with punk rock as offal has to do with salad.
I’ve waited 30 years to see the Sex Pistols and I wasn’t even born for three of them. 1977’s sole release, ‘Never Mind The Bollocks’, is my favourite album ever made: less a collection of songs – as incendiary and thrilling as they undoubtedly are – than the basis for a belief system. Those songs and their auteurs taught me to question the world, that creativity and intelligence should be valued and fostered and to always believe in change and progress.
These guiding principles had already taken a battering the week prior to tonight’s show when I’d finally come face to face with my hero, singer John Lydon, at a press conference in east London. That night he’d mused that England had “too many foreigners”, verbally abused an almost-mute female French photographer by repeatedly calling her “a fucking whore” and admitted he was a Tory voter. When I expressed my distaste he threw a microphone at me. It didn’t matter that he missed; he’d already broken my heart. Tonight’s show merely closes the deal.
It’s not simply that this reformation reeks of cash-in, as the Pistols have long made a career out of money for madness, even naming their 1996 reunion the Filthy Lucre tour. And it’s not just the crowd, though if
a band’s audience is a reflection of itself this mirror needs a thorough, comprehensive cleaning. It’s not even that the wealth of brilliant songs at their disposal limp along at half speed and sound nothing like you remember – it’s literally excruciating to hear what listless, insipid, comic non-entities ‘Anarchy In The UK’, ‘Submission’ and my all-time favourite song, ‘Bodies’, have become.
No, the source of the rot is that, in Lydon’s imitation of Dale Winton doing Roy Chubby Brown doing Vyvyan from The Young Ones, the Pistols have lost all the danger, raunch and anti-establishment brilliance that made them such a special, unique band. Witness Steve Jones, the man responsible for my favourite-ever guitar sound, puffing and wheezing stage right and now sounding like he’s playing through the setup of an ’80s poodle-perm rocker. Tragically, the Sex Pistols are now just a band. And, on tonight’s showing, not even a very good one.
At their ‘final’ show in 1978 Lydon addressed the crowd with a sneer of, “Ever got the feeling you’ve been cheated?” Just under 30 years later,
in a room smelling mainly of trump, my heart sighed the same sentiment.