BY JONATHAN VALANIA Okay Mr. Punk Friggin’ Rock. Before we even get started, you need to come down off your high horse. Take it slow, big fella. You’re not as young as you used to be, and it’s a long way down. All right, both feet on the ground? Good. Yes it’s true, the Sex Pistols played at the Donald’s Trump Marina casino on Saturday night, and you know what? They rocked, without apology. Like they meant it, man.
At this late date–some 25 years removed from the filth and the fury of their snot-caked birth–what more could you ask of them? Reasonable ticket prices? Maybe. Tickets did top out at $70 with taxes and handling fees, which is a fuck of a lot more than the three quid you would have forked over to gob them at London’s Hope and Anchor back in the day.
But hey, this is the 21st century, and after the cable industry, the concert business is about as close as you come to legalized consumer rape. Blame Ticketmaster. Blame Clear Channel. Hell, blame the Eagles. They started the whole $70 ticket thing.
Personally, I can’t fault the Pistols for wringing a little retirement nest egg out of their myth. Not when the entire Epitaph roster is using the buzz-saw power chords of “God Save the Queen” like an ATM card.
A less cheesy venue? Nah. It made perfect sense for the Pistols to come out of retirement rattling the dentures of the blue hairs pumping the slots with their Social Security checks. Really, who else is gonna be shocked anymore?
Not to tour at all? To keep the corpse of their vaunted legacy forever young and pretty, embalmed and out of public view? Too late. Johnny Rotten and co. already abused that illusion when they reunited in 1996 for the Filthy Lucre tour.
Besides, all the mohawked doofuses bitching into their beers about how the Pistols reunion is somehow tarnishing their legend are projecting a purity on the band that never really existed. They are forgetting that this is the group that swindled the record industry out of a quarter of a million pounds before they released a single note of music.
The fact that all that filthy lucre wound up lining the pockets of Malcolm McLaren, the Pistols’ svengali manager, is a whole other story, but it also goes a long way toward explaining why they would cash in now. The other part of the explanation is that–like Dylan, Jagger, Richards and for that matter R.E.M.–what the hell else are they going to do? They are, despite their protests to the contrary back in the day, musicians, and the last time we checked, musicians played music. Get over it.
So there we are Saturday night at the Trump Marina’s not-quite-full Grand Cayman Ballroom amid a crowd of postpubescent Warped Tour refugees looking for the real thing and Harvey Pekar look-alikes in faded Union Jack T-shirts trying to remember it–along with the usual smattering of drunk Jersey assholes and a contingent of beerhounds in shamrock green T-shirts that read “KISS ME I’M SHITFACED.”
“For those about to die, we salute you,” says Rotten, mocking his bandmates’ fiftysomething decrepitude, as the Pistols take the stage and lurch into the serrated chords of “Bodies.”
Rotten looks hale and healthy in a sleeveless tartan smock and cargo shorts, presumably having hit the StairMaster since his fat bastard appearance onstage in London in 1996. His adenoidal sneer of a voice still intact, he goosesteps across the stage, glaring wild-eyed, neck veins popping, spitting, shooting boogers and cussing like a sailor at last call.
The former anti-Christ actually seems to be enjoying himself. Still the same rude thumb up the ass of the Establishment he always was, bless his heart, Rotten mocks his titular host (“Donald Trump, you’ve got a dump”) and the powers that be (“Bush? You don’t need that idiot”). All these years later, anger is still his energy. The yahoo who thinks “punk rock” means throwing your drink on the lead singer only stokes Rotten’s furnace.
Steve Jones looks like he’s been overstaying his welcome at the all-you-can-eat buffet in his spare time, but his guitar playing packs the same razor-wire edge that gave Never Mind the Bollocks its napalm fury. Drummer Paul Cook hits the drums like they owe him money. And charter bassist Glen Matlock–sacked midway through the Pistols’ two-year career and replaced by the now-dead, more-idiot-than-savant Sid Vicious–delivers the requisite pogo stick gallop.
For the next 60 minutes they take a proud victory lap through Bollocks‘ undiminished greatness, with a brief detour through the Stooges’ “No Fun,” and if they don’t sound quite as apocalyptic as they surely must have in 1977 it’s only because the din of the culture has grown louder and coarser in the intervening years.
“God Save the Queen” and “Anarchy in the U.K.” still make you want fuck shit up, or at the very least flip that two-fingered British version of the bird.
In the end, the old guard got the warm nostalgia glow they always swore they would never want, and when it came they were glad for it. You can rest assured that more than a few kids filtered back to the suburbs and started a band that very night and that, Mr. Punk Friggin’ Rock–more than the overthrow of the status quo, the safety pins, the purple mohawks, the bondage trousers, Situationist manifestos or any quasi-socialist Maximum Rock ‘n’ Roll pieties–is what it’s all about.