A review of the Sex Pistols Experience gig at the O2 Academy, Sheffield, 30/5/14.
There were times during the Sex Pistols Experience last night, where it really did feel like 1976 again. Was it the ear-shredding metallic volume, the sweat, the spilt beer, or the audience’s dodgy personal politics? A week after elections swept xenophobic, bigoted UKIP candidates to power on a fearsome wave of….nine percent, the semi-super annuated crowd at this gig meet singer Rotten/Nathan’s teasing about ‘looking German’ with un-ironic jeers, also served up for the mention of the French. The anti-Johnny Thunders tirade of ‘New York’ (“Ya poor little faggot!”) elicits ‘Ooh ducky’ limp-wristed gestures from the front row. Meanwhile, drunk heterosexual men whip off their shirts and wrestle sweatily in the darkness of the mosh pit.
Maybe that’s just Yorkshire for you. (Sorry, that’s “Yaaaaarkshire! Yaaaarkshire!”) Here to recapture a moment of blazing, angry youth, it’s impossible to ignore the baggage (and padding) the roaring one-time punks have acquired. Peering out over a sea of chrome domes shining with sweat, singer Nathan’s impeccable ginger spikes and flinty Rotten-stare hypnotise the audience back to the days of the three day week, while ‘Kid Vicious’ has perfected his namesake’s dorky rocker pout-and-sneer cycle and casual naming-of-lady-parts. If anything TSPE play better than the real thing, with birthday boy drummer ‘Paul Crook’ as with all drummers, missing the limelight at the rear, but anchoring the band’s attack. Meanwhile ‘Steve Clones’, resplendent in red jacket and white carnations combo does a fine job of conjuring the Pistols’ heavy, near metallic wall of guitar sound. (Not to mention these days bearing a passing and appropriate resemblance to a younger Ronnie Biggs).
There’s a definite art to a tribute band and an important part is attention to detail. The set begins with a B-side, ‘I Wanna Be Me’ and fits in ‘Never Mind The Bollocks’ outtake ‘Belsen Was A Gas’, obscure track ‘Satellite’, (Vicious: “ Play the one nobody knows!”) and the Pistols’ favourite covers ‘Did You No Wrong’ and ‘What’cha Gonna Do About It?’ In the middle there’s a ‘Sid Sings’ interlude whilst Rotten goes a for a ‘shower and a shit’ and his back-from-the-grave bassist can chug happily through Eddie Cochran’s ‘Something Else’ and ‘C’mon Everybody’, morphing into a non-orchestral version of ‘My Way’. When Rotten fails to return, we even get ‘Silly Thing’. All that’s missing is Legs And Co to dance to it on Top of the Pops.
If that’s maybe a bit too much detail to recreate the Pistols’ heyday, what happens next actually comes close to completing the mid seventies experience, although without the actual spilt blood that would’ve been likely back then. If you’re the singer in a Sex Pistols tribute band, I’m pretty sure you expect and can soak up a fair amount of nostalgic verbal abuse and hand gestures, although these days flicking the V’s has been the victim of a transatlantic takeover by a rigid middle digit. Another US gig custom that’s made the leap across the pond is throwing beer. Pints of it, and not just by accident out of the mosh pit.
The guitarist takes a plastic pot to the head early on, but front man Nathan seems to be the focus of brewery showers, and from one particular perspiring Sontaran. He’s already chided a previous offender “’I get paid to be a wanker, you’re doing it for zilch”. but working his way through ‘Holidays In The Sun’, the Rotten thousand yard stare begins to look especially convincing, until he breaks off to argue with the chump, then said chump’s enraged girlfriend, after her consort has been ejected from the premises. A word in his ear from Vicious gets the front man back into the song, but when traditional set closer ‘No Fun’ grinds into view, the title repeated in a perfect imitation of Lydon’s robotic bark, you really feel he means it, man. The change in mood soaks into the crowd, who forget to applaud as the band leave the stage, and need Vicious to remind them that if they want an encore they’d better actually do their job and make some noise.
A ‘punk’ is USA prison slang for the passive sexual partner in the opportunistic homosexuality of confined men. Punk rock was named that as a label for the weak, skinny, oddball freaks who played angry rock music of the rejected and the outsider. When punk first began in the UK, it was cynical, nihilistic and rebellious, but also basically fun. It was only after the Pistols imploded that the individual punk aesthetic of ruined charity shop clothes and safety pins became streamlined into ripped blue jeans and painted leather biker jackets.That’s also when the unfashionable weirdness and silliness congealed into beery, sweaty machismo. Individuality and anarchy boils down into a rigid digit and airborne ale.
The Sex Pistols Experience make anti-heroic efforts to remind us what the original UK punks sounded like, and how their sly taunting managed to wind up people so successfully. The fresh-faced teenager I saw pogoing in his bright yellow ‘Never Mind The Bollocks’ T shirt got the message. Some of the people like me who are just about old enough to have been there first time, maybe less so. Things are never what they used to be, mainly because we forget the details, or twist them to fit where we’ve ended up now. As TSPE depart, the kiss off line to ‘No Fun’ and the Pistols’ career is rewritten for our age of constant distraction and misremembered past.
“Ever get the feeling you’ve been tweeted?”