Sex Pistols

By Jae-Ha Kim
Chicago Sun-Times
August 19, 1996

Fans at the Sex Pistols’ reunion concert at the Aragon Saturday night spit, swore and threw plastic cups filled with beer, ice and soda at the aging punk rockers.

Kinda makes you wonder what they would’ve done if they hadn’t liked the band so much.

Yes, it was just like the old days, except the Pistols didn’t return the volleys as they would have in their late 1970s heyday.         Today, the Sex Pistols look more like freaky dads than the angry young rockers who scared parents with their sneering, spitting and cussing.

But Saturday, the band, which broke up in 1978, showed it still has the chops to crank out musical goods with the proper disdain –  something every good punk song demands – even if, as they say, they are only here for the money.

When the crowd got antsy during a slight lull before the fifth song, singer Johnny Rotten (a.k.a. Johnny Lydon) hissed back at them, “Shut up!  You’ve been waiting 20 years.  You can wait two – – – – – – – minutes.”

The audience actually didn’t wait long.  England’s four original Pistols raced through 15 songs in one hour.

Kicking the show off with “Bodies,” Rotten seemed to revel in his job as the band’s mouthpiece.  The other musicians don’t share his flair for showmanship. Bassist Glen Matlock (whom the band replaced with Sid Vicious, who died in 1979) and drummer Paul Cook didn’t utter a peep, and shirtless guitarist Steve Cook was content ripping through powerful chords and posturing.

Wearing a shiny, gray-black suit and sporting a gravity-defying hairdon’t that was shocking pink on one side, canary yellow on the other, Rotten physically was an amusing caricature of his once-rotten self.  Sure he swore and pretended to have nothing but contempt for the good people who shelled out 25 bucks each to witness the band’s second and probably last tour.  But that’s mild stuff for an audience that’s been weaned on Metallica, gangsta rap and stinkers like Green Day.

Rotten’s flat, nasal voice sounded particularly venomous covering the Monkees’ sweet “Stepping Stone,” turning it into a belligerent, swaggering anthem.  His cackling laugh preceding “Anarchy in the U.K.” was just as maniacal as it was on the band’s only studio album, “Never Mind the Bollocks – Here’s the Sex Pistols” (1977).  And Jones coaxed out potent and surprisingly melodic guitar riffs during “God Save the Queen.”

The backdrop hanging from stage left was a reprint of a 1970s newspaper headline about the band: “Worthless, decidedly inferior.”

While punk rock glorified musicians’ inabilities to play well, the Sex Pistols always were more adept than they let on (except for Vicious, who was incompetent). Most of the audience was white males, ranging from late teens to early 40s. And there was little violence outside of the standard, obnoxious moshing that has become de rigueur at almost all rock shows.  The most vulgar sight was when a shirtless Jones allowed his leopard-print pants to ride down low, revealing a decidedly unpunk backside.

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