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Concert Review by Nick Morgan
Hammersmith Apollo
September 2nd 2008
Sex Pistols
Did I mention that we went to see the Sex Pistols? Maybe not, and I’m still a bit hard of hearing as a result. They were playing at the Hammersmith Apollo and Pistols anoraks will know legend has it that Steve Jones stole one of his first guitars from here, allegedly Mick Ronson’s.
The Pistols’ original line-up (Jones, Glen Matlock on bass, Paul Cook on drums and John Lydon on vocals) have been on a whirlwind world tour following their sell-out week at Brixton last year and tonight is the penultimate gig. They may have peaked too soon; according to Lydon they’re performing through hangovers having “drunk Dublin dry” the previous evening, but to judge by recent white wine spritzer-hugging interviews with various Pistols, I somehow doubt it. The Apollo is packed with old leather jackets, tartan trousers, ripped t-shirts, red-striped braces, Mohicans, the lot – ‘though mostly sported by folks who should know a little better. I guess it’s what you would call tribal. The throwaway foul-mouthed language would turn the fucking air fucking blue. The drinking is prodigious. No, you don’t understand, the drinking IS prodigious. The merchandise store is overwhelmed. It’s pay day.
We’re up in the circle – but as the Pistols take the stage at two minutes past nine exactly (not too much anarchy there then) we rise from our seats like puppets on strings – and spend the whole evening standing “Respect to the fuckers standing up in the balcony” says Lydon halfway through. It’s the Combine Harvester Tour, which may explain the opening song, a sort of Adge Cutler-inspired version of ‘Pretty vacant’. combine harvester
After that it’s down to business as they crash through all the songs you might expect, and with their final encore of ‘Silver machine’ and Roadrunner’, some you might not. The playing is pretty tight – Matlock and Cook are a rhythm section of note. When he’s not Pistolling, Cook, amongst other things, is a regular drummer with Edwyn Collins, and has been for a decade or more. Matlock has his own band, The Philistines, and an impressive list of collaborators. Together they fit easily into their groove, and you get the impression could play all night. Jones, latterly a DJ for an LA radio station, is perhaps less certain, a bit more of a journeyman. Certainly ‘subtle’ is not a word you would apply to his playing. But if you heard your kids playing this stuff in the garage, you’d be well impressed. Whether it’s really appropriate fare for a theatre full of around four thousand over-aged and over-weight (hang on – we’re in balcony seats but we’re all standing!) post-punk primordials is another matter.
Sex Pistols
Of course, what makes the difference is John Lydon. Like Jones, the comfortable life of West Coast USA seems to have super-sized him somewhat, but he occupies the front of the stage, leering with the sort of faux menace reserved only for the most fearsome of pantomime villains. He knows the deal, so he indulges the audience as they subject him to a constant shower of lager, showing irritation only once when a bottle strikes him on the shoulder – I assume it’s plastic. His fucking foul-mouthed stream of comment and invective never really flows beyond the tame, and though his jingoism is somewhat disconcerting, the whole lot seems aimed at promoting the new Pistol’s DVD, There’ll Always be an England, recorded live last year at Brixton. His singing persona is Mr Lydon of Public Image, which is mostly effective, particularly on songs like 'Stepping stone', 'God save the Queen' and song of the night 'EMI'. And I can’t help noticing that after each song (and during some too) he’s gargling and violently expectorating into a large plastic box just in front of the drums. Not pleasant, but a sign that there are no half-measures on the stage. They may be taking the money, but they’re not running.
So it was sort of OK. And did I mention how loud it was? However, I have to say that more than any old bunch of rockers I’ve seen lately (with the exception of Jefferson Starship, that is), it left me absolutely cold.
Johnny Lydon I didn’t know why I was there, and I couldn’t wait to get home for a quick glass of Scotland’s famous midnight wine before an early bed. And the bizarreness of the whole evening was confirmed when Lydon goaded the audience into singing ‘Happy Birthday’ to Steve Jones, which the crowd followed with a spontaneous and affectionate rendition of ‘You fat bastard, you fat bastard, you ate all the pies”. Jones was moved, the crowd laughed and clapped, and I was left wondering was this really was the band who seemed to be on the verge of turning the world upside-down in 1976? - Nick Morgan (photographs by Kate)
Listen: Johnny Rotten/Lydon MySpace page

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