Magazine article The Spectator

Pistols Pack a Punch

Magazine article The Spectator

Pistols Pack a Punch

Article excerpt

'Anyone in the building under 40?' asks Johnny Rotten. Yes, I am (just): and, by the looks of things, about 20 others among 3,000-odd punters at the Brixton Academy, come to see the Sex Pistols in their middleaged prime. Punk isn't dead. It just drives a people-carrier these days.

But age cannot wither these amazing 30-year old songs. The set opens with the sonic attack of 'Pretty Vacant' -- the best pop record ever, in my book -- as Steve Jones's ferocious guitar forms the wall of sound upon which Rotten's words are sprayed like seething graffiti.

It is five years since I last saw the Pistols, and it appears that Jones has been eating all the pies since that particular 'farewell' concert at Crystal Palace. 'Fatty' Jones was the guitarist's nickname even in the Seventies, but it is no longer a joke name.

Well, if we're honest, we've all put on a few pounds since we last convened. The constant -- in 2007 as in 1977 -- is the awesome power and authority of Jones's guitar-playing, which holds together a string of favourite numbers, from 'Problems', 'Liar' and 'EMI' to 'No Feelings', 'Submission' and 'No Fun'. Malcolm McLaren, the group's former manager, always claimed that the essence of punk was to 'make sure they can't play'. Nonsense, of course; this lot always knew what they were doing.

Glen Matlock and Paul Jones form a tight rhythm section, while Rotten does what he does best: strutting like a marionette plugged into the mains, arms aloft, the eyes of childhood meningitis staring frostily into the crowd he both loves and disdains. Olivier's Richard III ('deformed, unfinished'), Arthur Askey, the Hunchback of Notre Dame and Ken Dodd: they are all in there.

He is in a good mood because McLaren, his old enemy, has dropped out of the jungle reality show, I'm a Celebrity..., before its official start. 'What a f***ing w***er!' he crows. Then, to the crowd: 'You may kiss me now.' His throat is giving him trouble and he doses himself with Chloraseptic throughout the gig. But the voice is still mesmeric, the howl of an Irish, Arsenal-loving banshee from north London. 'When there's no future, How can there be sin? We're the flowers in the dustbin, We're the poison in your human machine, We're the future, your future': nobody has ever written or sung lyrics remotely like that.

On paper, these occasional reunion concerts -- transparently and unashamedly staged whenever the band needs a bit of cash -- ought to be just an embarrassing nostalgia-fest. …

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