Review: 23 June 1996 – Finsbury Park, London, UK – Filthy Lucre Tour

Little Fucking Party

It didn’t inspire anarchy this time, but the Sex Pistols’ performance before 30,000 fans in Finsbury Park last night was a victory of sorts for a band that, along with the Ramones, changed the course of rock ‘n’ roll. This time around, however, the Pistols aren’t gonna change anything but the size of their bank accounts.

“Fat, 40 and back,” lead singer Johnny Rotten (nee Lydon) announced to the crowd. “Thank you all for coming to our little fucking party.” The reformed Pistols–drummer Paul Cook, guitarist Steve Jones, original bassist Glen Matlock and Rotten–charged through a 45 minute set drawn from their one and only studio album that included “Bodies,” “Pretty Vacant,” Anarchy In The U. K.,” “God Save the Queen,” as well as a version of the Monkees’ “Stepping Stone,” a song they first began performing after their formation in 1976. The show was recorded for a live album that is being rushed out on July 29, in time for the U.S. leg of the tour.

The scene in Finland Friday night was another story: a drunken audience of 15,000 threw plastic bottles at the band, forcing them to walk off the stage mid-set, before returning to the rest of their songs as well as a cover of the Stooges’ “No Fun.” In North London, things were less ugly. According to a report that appeared in today’s San Francisco Chronicle , members of the U.K. audience–decked out in classic punk style (mohawks, leather jackets and dyed hair)–sang along with the Pistols. In other words, what was once a true revolution in style and content has, again, been reduced to nostalgia. Excuse us while we barf.

Reprinted from the June 24, 1996 Addicted to Noise.

Happiness is a Worn gun

“Well, we’re not that f****** bad after all, are we?” announced a typically defiant John Lydon (nee Rotten), halfway through the Sex Pistols’ first British show in 20 years. And, if you cut a swath through all the hype his reunion has generated and the scepticism with which it has understandably been greeted, then he had probably got it about right.

For, although dubbed the Filthy Lucre tour (after a tabloid headline from 1977: “Punk? Call It Filthy Lucre”), there is no doubt that the Pistols were out to prove more than their ability to make money. Part of the “unfinished business” to which Lydon referred at their recent press conference involved the dismantling of their long-standing reputation as the band that could not play. But no matter what they did they were never going to recapture the sense of outrage that they generated so effortlessly in their prime. Indeed, it is a measure of the group’s baleful influence that nobody now gets worked up about pop stars using bad language in their lyrics, and there was an air of relaxed camaraderie among the 30,000-strong crowd as they sang along with genial gusto to the f-words in the opening number, “Bodies”.

The Pistols had obviously done their homework, and despite a somewhat arthritic feel to the rhythm section, they thundered through Seventeen and No Feelings with surprising conviction. But it was hard to ignore the element of pantomime in the performance. With his hair arranged in vertical spikes, Lydon looked more like a postcard-punk caricature than he ever did in his original incarnation. “Oh, how you longed to see this day,” he goaded the crowd, which responded with a chant of: “You fat bastard.” “Don’t be naughty,” Lydon admonished them.

With its pedalling rhythm, descending chord steps and Chuck Berry-style guitar solo “God Save the Queen” was always a magnificent song, and the lyrics have held up remarkably well. But the punk ethos which always railed against the mindless adulation of rock stars and preferred its heroes to come equipped with a self-destruct mechanism was not designed with big, open-air events in mind. With no new material on offer, the set lacked depth and variety, and having built to a quick climax with “Holidays in the Sun”, “Pretty Vacant” and “EMI”, the Pistols left the stage after less than an hour to a muted response.

The “encores” produced reliable versions of “Anarchy in the U.K.” and “Problems”, but they lost their way as soon as they departed from the script during a more ambitious rendition of the Stooges’ proto-punk anthem, “No Fun”. “Thank you for coming to my garden party,” Lydon said as he departed, his duty done. No future indeed, but still a band with a past worth making a bit of noise about.

Reprinted from The Times, London.

Sham ’96: Sex Pistols and Guests

It didn’t inspire anarchy this time, but the Sex Pistols’ performance before 30,000 fans in Finsbury Park last night was a victory of sorts for a band that, along with the Ramones, changed the course of rock ‘n’ roll. This time around, however, the Pistols aren’t gonna change anything but the size of their bank accounts.

“Fat, 40 and back,” lead singer Johnny Rotten (nee Lydon) announced to the crowd. “Thank you all for coming to our little fucking party.” The reformed Pistols–drummer Paul Cook, guitarist Steve Jones, original bassist Glen Matlock and Rotten–charged through a 45 minute set drawn from their one and only studio album that included “Bodies,” “Pretty Vacant,” Anarchy In The U. K.,” “God Save the Queen,” as well as a version of the Monkees’ “Stepping Stone,” a song they first began performing after their formation in 1976. The show was recorded for a live album that is being rushed out on July 29, in time for the U.S. leg of the tour.

The scene in Finland Friday night was another story: a drunken audience of 15,000 threw plastic bottles at the band, forcing them to walk off the stage mid-set, before returning to the rest of their songs as well as a cover of the Stooges’ “No Fun.” In North London, things were less ugly. According to a report that appeared in today’s San Francisco Chronicle , members of the U.K. audience–decked out in classic punk style (mohawks, leather jackets and dyed hair)–sang along with the Pistols. In other words, what was once a true revolution in style and content has, again, been reduced to nostalgia. Excuse us while we barf.

Reprinted from the NME.

Not Much Anarchy Left In Middle Aged Punks

Caitlin Moran finds little left of the punk revolution after joining fans at the Sex Pistols’ reunion concert in north London

THE road to London’s Finsbury Park, where the Sex Pistols yesterday staged their much-hyped reunion, is littered with the debris of the punk revolution, 1996 style.

A few dozen men in their late thirties, in faded Sex Pistols T-shirts, were slumped in semi-conscious, beery heaps. The revolution will be something they read about in the papers and see on television. The teenagers who had turned out seemed to feel they had missed out on the youth ferment of the 1960s and 1970s. “Oasis and Blur are rubbish,” Nathan, 18, said. “They are not anything to get excited about. Most British music is boring.”

“We are here to see Iggy Pop and the Pistols but it’s been quite dull so far,” James, 17, said. “I thought there would be a bit of excitement; someone might wreck the ice-cream vans or the burger stalls. But nothing’s happened yet.” Nor did much happen later. After playing tapes of Kung Fu Fighting and a selection of Bee Gees and Abba hits, the Pistols arrive on stage a punkish 20 minutes late, looking fat and tanned.

They steamed their way through their limited back catalogue with a fair amount of brio but very little danger. The nearest the Pistols got to their former scabrous past was by repeatedly offering to fight “any journalist” in the audience. But it was ever thus. When punk emerged in the 1970s it was somewhat bungled tours were cancelled, squabbling diluted any clear punk ethos, and most of the prime movers happily took their profits when it fizzled out. The real changes were within the music industry: the Pistols’ Finsbury Park support band, the Buzzcocks, started a trend for independent, band-managed labels. That was a far greater achievement than the Pistols swearing on television.

Any feelings that today’s youth may have about “missing out” can be put down to self-celebratory PR by retired punks and hippies. However, to judge from last night, there is nothing to be nostalgic about, save for the fact that attending such a gig in the 1970s would have cost £1 rather than £25, plus parking, plus T-shirt, plus programme, plus babysitter…

Reprinted from The Times, London.

Sex Pistols In The Money

London fans cheer legends’ return for
‘Filthy Lucre’ tour

By Gina Arnold, Chronicle Correspondent

LONDON

Six songs into their first performance in 18 years Friday, the Sex Pistols walked off a Finnish stage in disgust. But last night, the punk-rock legends finally conquered the United Kingdom at a triumphant comeback show in Finsbury Park in North London.

It was the second cultural victory for England in two days. Saturday night, the nation won a berth in the European World Cup soccer semifinals for the first time since 1966. And last night, the Sex Pistols — who were introduced by two English star football players, Stuart Pearce and Gareth Southgate — took their rightful place in rock history again in front of 20,000 cheering British fans.

Beginning with the song “Bodies,” off the band’s only LP, “Never Mind the Bollocks,” the Sex Pistols — Johnny Rotten (John Lydon), Steve Jones, Paul Cook and the band’s original bassist Glen Matlock (who was later replaced by the late Sid Vicious) — had the crowd in the palm of its hand. On a balmy night, the Sex Pistols took the stage at around 9:15, played for 45 minutes and returned for two encores. They shared the bill with the godfather of punk, Iggy Pop, and other groups such as Skunk Anansie, the Wild Hearts and the Buzzcocks.

OLD PUNKS

Unlike the Finnish show, which was predominantly populated by people under age 20, the London show brought all the old punks out in force, complete with dyed hair, spiky mohawks and leather studs. But despite the “Road Warrior” look of the crowd, no aggression was in evidence. Those who had once cried out for “Anarchy in the U.K.” now smiled happily as they sang along with “Uncle Johnny,” as Rotten referred to himself, to such songs as “Pretty Vacant,” “Problems” and the Pistols’ trademark cover of the Monkees’ “Stepping Stone.”

The Sex Pistols’ Finsbury Park concert was recorded for a live double album due out July 29. Whether this tour will succeed in the U.S. remains to be seen (The U.S. leg of the tour will bring the Sex Pistols to Mountain View’s Shoreline Amphithea tre on August 27). London is, of course, the birthplace of punk rock and the Sex Pistols’ concert is just one of many rock reunions this summer. Next week, for example, the Who will reunite for a large concert in Hyde Park.

Last night’s Finsbury Park love fest for the home town boys was a far cry from the opening show in Finland of what’s being billed as “The Filthy Lucre Tour.” On Friday night, the group’s first performance in nearly two decades got off to a rocky start when, 20 minutes into the set, Rotten stomped off the stage in a rage after audience members started pelting the band with plastic bottles. Rotten launched an obscenity-laced tirade at the largely young and drunken audience just after completing the sixth song of the set, “Liar.”

“I am not your target,” yelped an infuriated Rotten, 40, who was dressed all in silver with silvery spiked hair. “There are worse things than me in this world,” he added. “You should be fucking grateful I’m here.”

REPEATED WARNINGS

After repeatedly warning the audience he would walk unless it behaved itself, Rotten finally made good on his threat after the next song, saying, “That’s it, fuck you, fuck off.” The rest of the band left with him. Rotten may well have been genuinely upset by the rowdy and inebriated crowd. But given the Pistols’ penchant for publicity stunts, the tantrum could just as easily have been contrived — or a reaction to the crowd’s drunken indifference to the music onstage. After all, other bands on the bill — including Los Angeles’ Bad Religion and Brazil’s Sepultera, had also been pelted with bottles — with no apparent hard feelings or ill effects.

But the Pistols, whose largest gig prior to this one was in front of 3,500 at Winterland in San Francisco in 1978, may also have been unprepared for the modern-day spectacle of 15,000 drunk and belligerent teenagers at the three-day Messila Festival, held in a snowboard park at Hollola, some 60 miles north of Helsinki. The sheer scope of the gig may have come as something of a surprise, since the Pistols’ tour bus and entourage cruised up to the concert only 40 minutes before the band took the stage. (Rotten arrived in a separate vehicle a few minutes later.) Unlike younger bands, they may have been taken aback at the distressing sight of such large-scale mayhem.

The Messila Festival, however, is particularly notorious, because it takes place on Johannusaatto, the Finnish midsummer holiday and the country’s party-hearty equivalent of New Year’s Eve. It is a day for extended drunken binges that continue through the 22 hours of daylight. Thus, by the time the Pistols got onstage — at 10 p.m. on the second day of the festival — they faced a field littered with semi- and unconscious bodies and vomit. Although hundreds of kids sported “Anarchy” T-shirts and multicolored hair, the crowd as a whole seemed oblivious to the Pistols’ music, a situation not helped by the fact that the first six songs were relatively obscure numbers, including rare B-sides like “Done You No Wrong” and “I’m a Lazy Sod.” After the band left the stage, Billy Carson, an African-American actor popular in Finland, echoed Rotten in berating the crowd.

“Idiots! Morons!” Carson shouted in broken Finnish. “This band has come here after 20 years. You should treat them with respect!” Eventually coaxed back to the stage, the Pistols focused on their better known songs and ended their set with the old Stooges’ song “No Fun,” which a sneering Rotten introduced with, “This what you’ve been, and what we’re having.” But despite his taunts, many young fans said afterward that they were pleased with the performance. “Maybe they are only doing it for the money,” said Annika Muhonen, 15, “but it’s still good music. They still have something to say.”

For those feeling more cynical about the proceedings, however, there was some comic relief when headliners the Leningrad Cowboys, a Finnish band that parodies metal and country music, played a version of “God Save the Queen” that segued smoothly into Elvis Presley’s “Burning Love” before winding up with the all-too-appropriate lyric, “No future — less vodka for you.”

Reprinted from the June 24, 1996 San Francisco Chronicle.

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