In September 1994, I scribbled an article for this publication entitled "Come Together--Again"; it was intended to lampoon then-current supergroup reunion tours by acts such as the Eagles and Steely Dan via a supposedly fictional list of other outfits considering get-togethers. Among them was the Sex Pistols, about whom I wrote: "Now that punk rock is suddenly commercial, why not bring back the granddaddies of them all? Their schedule is open: Lead singer John (Rotten) Lydon's latest act, Public Image Ltd., recently lost its record deal with Virgin, drummer Paul Cook and guitarist Steve Jones have spent most of the nearly two decades since the group disbanded watching the telly, and Sid Vicious is dead--meaning he doesn't have any prior commitments. Besides, Vicious in his present condition probably can play the bass just as well as he did when he was alive."
Be careful what you joke about; it just may come true. On Wednesday, July 31, at Red Rocks, the Sex Pistols appeared together on American soil for the first time since early 1978. (Bassist Glen Matlock wasn't in the group back then; he was replaced by Vicious in 1977 because he supposedly wasn't punk enough. "He wanted to make us fun!" Lydon complained at the time.) The Pistols were so confident of their drawing power--and so sure that they'd be branded sellouts by punks too young to remember that they were always in the music game mainly for the money (ask Malcolm McLaren)--that they dubbed their jaunt the "Filthy Lucre" tour. But the Denver date suggested that the musicians' bank accounts wouldn't be feathered by as many bills as they'd anticipated. Sales were so anemic that ticket prices were reduced to $10.67, a total that corresponds with the frequency of sponsor KBPI-FM, which I never once heard play a Pistols song during its lackluster promotion of the date. Moreover, people who bought full-price tickets were told that they could bring along a friend for free--an extraordinary, maybe unprecedented, deal. Despite these incentives, the upper quarter of the amphitheater remained fairly empty throughout the evening.
The people who bothered to attend fell into a few general categories. There were youngsters clad in vintage punk regalia, including one guy who looked more like Vicious than did Gary Oldman in Sid and Nancy. (Collectively, this bunch called to mind the participants in a punk-dress-up day at a suburban middle school.) There were more generic youths with incredibly bad skin--always a key part of the punk demographic. There were typical post-grungers of the sort you'd see at any modern-rock show. There were thirtysomethings who stood around with arms folded and faces scrunched: Their body language seemed to say, "You're going to have to prove to me that you don't suck." And, strangely enough, there were families: parents with babies or preteens enjoying a night of pure, wholesome fun.
These last fans weren't the only indication of how quaint the Sex Pistols have become. Until the wind at Red Rocks forced their removal, giant reproductions of mid-Seventies headlines decorated the stage. The largest of these called the Pistols "Foul-Mouthed," which they were for their time; EMI dropped them from its roster after Matlock said "fuck" on national British television. But compared with many Ice Cube song lyrics, the profanities uttered by Lydon and comrades seem about as shocking as a performance by Shari Lewis and Lambchop.
Just as lackluster was Reacharound, the second of the four combos on the bill. (I missed the opener, Gravity Kills.) The group's mid-tempo offerings sounded like the Alarm--yawn--while its speedier tracks were reminiscent of...the Alarm, too. These lugs were followed by Stabbing Westward, which on its recordings suggests a watered-down, infinitely more boring Nine Inch Nails. At Red Rocks, however, the combo proved that it's capable of other styles, too. The hit "What Do I Have to Do?," for example, bridged the gap between Depeche Mode and Journey. Still, head Stabber Christopher Hall did manage to get off the evening's best line; as he was leaving, he said, "Some of you have been waiting to see this band since before you were born."
A few minutes later the Pistols emerged, with Jones, Cook and Matlock dressed in pretty much the same kind of duds they favored in the mid-Seventies. Lydon, by contrast, was distinguished by spiked hair dyed red and yellow to match his suspenders, blouse and trousers; he resembled a cross between Phyllis Diller and Bozo the Clown. "We're going to blow this fucking house down," he shouted at the throng before launching into "Bodies," the lead cut on the new Pistols' CD, Filthy Lucre Live. This choice was hardly a coincidence; the set list seemed identical to the roster of tracks on the disc, right down to the running order. As on Lucre, the Pistols presented nothing new; rather, they ran through everything on their one-and-only studio release, 1977's Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols, tossed in a couple of ancient B-sides and called it a night.
The versions of these faves heard at Red Rocks were relentlessly de rigueur. The players came across as both competent and professional--terms that should not necessarily be viewed as purely complimentary in this context--and the tempos remained vigorous. Lydon, too, was in decent voice; he generally proved capable of making his nasal yelp heard over the foothills gusts. But these by-the-numbers readings lacked any attempt at commentary or contemporaneity. The Pistols' songs were like broadcasts from the war front when they first appeared, but they don't have nearly the same impact two decades down the line. "God Save the Queen," for one, is almost funny; after all, the only reason Lydon is chanting "no future" again is because he wants to ensure his own, financially speaking. "E.M.I.," a bitter rant about the label's mistreatment of the band, sounded even more ludicrous. Probably even the members of the band don't remember what this petty fight was about, but because they've got so little material, they churned it out anyway.
It wasn't easy for Lydon to do his part. A couple of ditties into the show, he moved to the side of the stage and took several deep pulls from a mask connected to an oxygen tank. One song later, he asked, "Would anyone mind if I had a bit more of that oxygen?" and returned to the man with the tank. Shortly thereafter, he actually dragged the contraption onto the stage, placing it beside Cook's drum kit. From that point on, he spent every free minute sucking down the precious gas, looking disturbingly like Dennis Hopper in Blue Velvet. Thank goodness the main body of the show was only about forty minutes long, or emergency personnel would have had to park him on a slab.
The brief encore provided even more unintended satire. As the Pistols roared into "Anarchy in the U.K.," a composition that's aged somewhat less well than, say, "The Ballad of the Green Berets," the entire crowd happily sang along with Johnny. As they did so, it suddenly became clear that there was no substantial difference between this concert and the efforts of other Seventies bands to convert their musical chestnuts into negotiable currency. It took twenty years, but Lydon, whose previous shtick was ostensibly intended to destroy the corporate rock of his era, has finally evolved into Glenn Frey.
Things weren't always so Rotten. When Lydon spoke with Westword in 1992, while on the road with PIL, he exhibited a healthy contempt for the brand of nostalgia that he's now peddling. In between rhapsodizing over his interest in marine biology and his fondness for soap operas ("I love Santa Barbara," he gushed), he took a shot at those who continued to pester him about the Pistols. "I think it's sad," he said. "I think that these people are totally blind, but frankly, I believe that most of our fans don't even know about that part of my life. Fully half of our audience has never heard of that. It's the writers that won't let it go. They can't move on. It's pathetic."
Truer words were never spoken.
This year's LoDo Music Festival was the most poorly attended yet, and it doesn't take a mathematician to figure out why: The lineup was notably weak. Perhaps organizers figured that the event had established itself so well that money could be saved on talent fees. They were wrong: The modest crowd wandering the streets on Saturday, August 3 (the night I attended), seemed notably bored by the likes of Johnny Clegg and Juluka and Joan Baez. (Best set I saw: Luther Allison's.) Also, organizational aspects seemed notably slack; I left the concert zone briefly through an unattended security station, then was refused readmittance by brain-dead staffers because no one had stamped my wrist. (I was told my ticket stub wasn't good enough because "some forgeries" had turned up.) Despite the prolonged hassle that resulted, I still want the Music Fest to survive. I'd just like it to be better.
Hollywood, here they come. "Deliver Me," the lead track on the new Foreskin 500 album Starbent But Superfreaked (available now on the Priority imprint), is featured prominently in The Fan, the soon-to-be-released film starring Robert De Niro and Wesley Snipes. According to label sources, the tune plays for a full three minutes in the background of a scene at a strip club. Anyone at the Boulder rave party in March at which lead Foreskinner Diggie Diamond took it all off for an excited throng will understand just how appropriate this is.
Those of you who pored over every word of this issue's Dash Rip Rock profile (page 68) may have noticed that the writer of the article, Marty Jones, is also on the bill. For clarification's sake, let me note that this was not a quid pro quo situation--nor is Jones, a singer-songwriter who's performed regularly in the area over the past several months, sleeping with Ned "Hoaky" Hickel. According to Marty, he was offered a chance to open the Dash Rip Rock show long after the story was assigned and an interview scheduled. In the interest of complete disclosure, let me add that I'm not wearing any pants.
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Two noteworthy events. The Rocky Mountain Bluegrass Festival, known as RockyGrass, takes place Friday, August 9, through Sunday, August 11, in Lyons (call 449-6007 for details). The terrific lineup includes Doc Watson, the Bluegrass Patriots, Charles Sawtelle and the Whippets, Pete and Joan Wernick, and Crucial Country, featuring Sam Bush, Peter Rowan and Jerry Douglas. Finally, Spoon Collection celebrates the release of its latest CD, Tarnished, Saturday, August 10, at the Skyline Cafe. A review will have to wait, since I lost my copy of the disc. Maybe it's with my pants.
Pulling up the rear. On Thursday, August 8, Imperial Drag races to the Bluebird Theater; the 'Vengers refuse to let you off ska free at Herman's Hideaway; Salamander Crossing appears with Tim and Mollie O'Brien at the Gold Hill Inn; and the Greyboy Allstars, featuring former Denverite/current funk legend Fred Wesley, color the Fox Theatre. On Friday, August 9, the Girls begin a three-night run at the Sedalia Grill, 5607 North U.S. Highway 85; Weston heads to the Mercury; the Perry Weisman 3 count off at City Spirit; and the Hillbilly Hellcats bare their claws at Cricket on the Hill. On Saturday, August 10, Vibe Tribe and Prohibition Six play for free at Boulder's Central Park, Broadway and Canyon; Soul Coughing, supporting its impressive second album, hacks at the Fox; Martha's Wake keeps its eyes open at Cafe Euphrates; Fatwater splashes at Seven South, with the Hate Fuck Trio and Shark Chum; and Sepultura gets doomy at the Ogden Theatre. On Sunday, August 11, Burning Spear fires up at the Boulder Theater, with Judge Roughneck. On Tuesday, August 13, Neurosis gives cause for concern at the Mercury, with Murphy's Law. On Wednesday, August 14, Tina and the B-Side Movement put their best feet forward at the Fox; Munly gets blurry at Caffe Mars; and King Sunny Ade Afro-beats it to the Bluebird. God save him.
Backbeat's e-mail address is: Michael_Roberts@westword.com