The Sex Pistols Live at Hammersmith Apollo, 2nd September 2008
In January 1978, Johnny Rotten famously snarled "Ever get the feeling you've been cheated?" to a San Fransisco audience, who were watching the Sex Pistols explode before their very eyes...
When I went to see their very first re-form show (Finsbury Park, 1996), I was absolutely bricking it. The Pistols are just about my favourite band of all time, but the decision to go wasn't as straight forward as you might think. On the one hand, how could I miss the chance of actually seeing them live after all these years? but on the other, there was a real fear that it would be disappointing and soil my love for the band. It sounds stupid, but i was genuinely nervous about that gig. But in the end it was completely unfounded, and they put on a blistering show that night, everything I ever wanted and more. 20 years on, they still had the swagger, the anger and the attitude. So with memories of Finsbury Park and numerous reports of how good they were last year, I'd been lulled into a false sense of security about tonight's gig and hadn't even been worrying about it... mistake!
For an hour before the band arrive, a DJ is on stage playing toons to get the audience 'in the mood'. To be honest, someone may as well have just stuck a 'best-ist Punk album in the world.. EVER (honest)' type CD on, and saved the cost of the DJ, as just about every track was 'that' obvious. The band walk on to a rousing rendition of 'There'll always be an England' and launch straight into... erm.. a hoe-down style version of Pretty Vacant. It's obviously tongue in cheek, designed to fit in with the title of the tour (Combine Harvester), and maybe a couple of lines might have been vaguely funny... but after two verses and two choruses it wears very thin, and the little dance routines and 'yea-hars' are a bit embarrassing. I start to panic, Pretty Vacant is my favourite Pistols song... hell, it's my favourite song FULL STOP!! is this the only rendition I'm gonna get tonight?? Fortunately though, once the barn dance is (finally) over, they do at least play it again for real.
The setlist is a no-brainer, and includes pretty much everything you expect, but 4 or 5 songs in I notice I'm just starting to lose interest, and from what I'm seeing on stage, I don't think I'm the only one. This is a cash cow 'going thru the motions' gig if ever I saw one. Lydon is obviously bored of the whole thing, and unforgivably, is ruining a number of the songs. I always think of him having two singing voices... his angry snarl for the Pistols, and that high-pitched caterwauling that he introduced us to in Public Image Ltd. Unfortunately, he's decided to go for the caterwauling option for much of tonight, singing about 8 octaves too high, and much of it all on the same note! (think the chorus to PiL's 'The Flowers of Romance' and then substitute large chunks of 'Never Mind the Bollocks' into that!). The rest of the band try hard to recreate the power and sound of the originals, but Lydon's vocals undo much of their work.
The only members who's heart still seems to be in this are Cook and Matlock (no doubt the only two who really need the money too... coincidence?), Cook is as solid as ever behind the skins, and at least ensures that the unmistakable Pistols sound remains tight. Matlock too is ever the talented professional... to think they actually sacked him back in the day! Steve Jones looks about 20 stone and has lost much of his on-stage style and charisma (his cocky swagger now more a waddle). Surviving the gig seems to be his main priority tonight as he puffs and blows his way through the set, but his unmistakable chugging guitar sound still sets the hairs on your neck going...
As the show goes on, there is one other thing that really starts to niggle, and that's Lydon continually banging on about how 'great' Great Britain is. He's waving the George Cross flag and dropping his trousers to display his union jack pants... and in between songs he's continually telling us how wonderful us Brits are and what a great country England is... yeah John, that's why you n Jonesy have spent the last 20 years in LA mate...
When they come out for the encore, Lydon finally finds his Pistols voice, and gives us a fairly convincing 'Anarchy in the UK'. Yet incredibly this one is spoilt in other ways, as it's overly extended to lend itself to a bit of audience participation (kinda punk Butlins style). The gig finally splutters to a conclusion with two truly 'orrible cover versions... Hawkwinds 'Silver Machine' (WTF??!) and Road Runner. Road Runner is nowhere near the spit and bile of their original 70's version, it's an overlong cabaret routine and I make my exit during it (so I'm assuming it was the last number)... Always leave 'em wanting less!
Had I not seen how good the reformed Sex Pistols can be (I've just listened to the Finsbury Park Live CD twice whilst typing this review, and it still sounds incredible), maybe I wouldn't have been quite so disappointed. Lydon informed us that the band had "drunk Ireland Dry" the night before, and tonights show certainly had the feel of a hangover about it.
So in answer to the question he posed 30 years ago, yeah, finally I do feel a bit cheated John...
Good to meet up with Planet Mondo and Tronik Youth after the gig, and t'was Mr Tronik who took the crackin' photos of the show you see above. Cheers for letting me use em fella!
You can see plenty more of Tronik's Pistols Pics and read what Planet Mondo thought of the show here.
And why not pop over to Tronik Youth's site to see just who he's remixin' this week, see where he's next DJ'ing or maybe even pick up one of his super funky T-Shirts!