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REVIEWS Chicago '03

God Save The Sex Pistols exclusive reviews!

Chicago, IL - Aragon Ballroom: 29th August 2003

Review by Robert J. Hurns

I must admit I was a bit worried when I looked at the tickets, reading "Sex Pistols - No Mosh, No Bodysurfing." Not that this 47 year old was going to be down in front in the trenches doing any body surfing. But for those who wanted to do just that, the notice on the ticket seemed to be the complete antithesis of the Pistols experience.

Not to worry! Plenty of moshing was had by all. The lads are all right, and proved at the Aragon Ballroom Friday night that they are indeed the real deal.

The Aragon Ballroom located on the north side of Chicago was built back in the 1920's to showcase the big bands, where guys like Benny Goodman and Tommy Dorsey would play while people danced underneath a canopy of electric stars. The stage and dance floor is surrounded by faux Moorish architecture. In the 1960's, the Aragon began to present rock bands, and still does today. I recall seeing The Clash at the Aragon back in '79 and '80, two magnificent shows I will never forget. The last time I saw a show at the Aragon was the Filthy Lucre tour back in '96.

There is only one problem with the Aragon. The acoustics suck!

The Dropkick Murphys, who dissolved into an echoing mess of noise, proved this sad fact beyond a reasonable doubt. The bagpipe player and the guy playing the recorder sometimes made the sound an echoing mess of noise with screeching oscillating high end on top. They sounded like they were playing in the helium filled center of a dirigible, the sound bloated and thunderous, nothing more. Too much equipment and too many amps set at stun level. It was unfortunate and annoying.

The crowd was having a good time. Young punks, old punks, the curious, dads and sons, bikers, and former inmates. The T-shirt parade was great fun….I think every punk band known to mankind was represented on at least one shirt.

The Pistols hit the stage around 9:00, and commenced with the Laying Down of the Sacred Text. The acoustic problem was still there, but the Pistols stripped-down format was more conducive to the hall, and the sound was intelligible. They were balanced nicely between loud and way too loud.

Glen and Steve wore matching white outfits. Johnny wore the shirt he is seen wearing in the photo from the Boston gig. Paul seemed to be in the best physical shape, with Glen, Steve and Johnny competing in the Largest Expanding Gut competition. I think Steve may win that one.

The music was far from overweight, and I dare say they are possibly tighter now than they were back in '77. The set list is the same as mentioned in the other gig reviews, starting out with Bodies and ending with Problems, the bulk of the Sacred Text wedged in the middle. Some of the songs were incredibly tight, while a handful like Submission, floundered around a bit. Johnny forgot the words, and persisted on coming in at the wrong times. This resulted in a huddle over at the drumkit, where Glen, Steve and Paul brought the sinking sub into dry-dock. Other songs were played to perfection, God Save The Queen in particular. Steve's short solo on that tune was absolutely searing. I guess when you play the same solo over and over, you polish it to the point where it becomes the equivalent of a diamond.

And the audience becomes part of the band. When Glen and Steve approach the mikes, you know it's time to sing along with the Pistols. What could be more fun than singing along with several thousand strangers who are there for the same reason you are? Almost every Pistol's tune provides a sing-a-long moment, and the audience is always willing to oblige. Pretty Vacant was a great example, causing the Aragon to vibrate with the thunderous shout of "we're VACANT!" Who said you can't go home anymore? There were lots of hoarse voices in Chicago Saturday morning.

They played for an hour. I kept thinking, slow down guys….you don't have a lot of songs in your pocket. But what an hour!

Steve is such a driving force once he gets going…..churning out those thunderous chords, hammering away on the 'ol Les Paul. No perpetual showy changing of guitars here….just sticking with the Les Paul, please. His chording on No Fun was great….every chord a pile driver in its own right. He must have read the other gig reviews, because he spent 95% of the evening facing the audience, right foot firmly planted forward. Glen keeps getting better and better, and his mere presence lends (at least to me) a legitimacy to the proceedings. Paul is a great powerhouse drummer, always in eye contact with Steve and Glen to determine what is going to happen next. And then there is Johnny.

Johnny seemed to have the most fun out of everyone, audience included. Gone is the brooding hunchback persona. The Johnny of today is jumping, posturing, dancing, ogling, acting, inciting, always moving. Clearly he loves the fans, despite his admonitions to them. Sometimes he resembled a robotic leprechaun, bristling with mischief. His vocal style has changed over the years, and to his credit he stays true to where his journey has taken him. Hence, some of the vocals are straight out of PIL, with that sustained, quavering quality. During New York, Johnny's PIL sound almost gave the song a whole new interpretation. During No Fun, he conjured up the sound of a nasal Iggy Pop crossed with someone who has had his larynx removed and has to use one of those vibrating things to talk. He talked to the crowd frequently, thanking Bush for allowing them to play in the U.S., and verbally urinating on the Offspring, Paul McCartney and Tom Green. He also told the "cell phone" and the Internet to fuck off, and chastised the audience because "people don't connect anymore." During the encore, Anarchy In The UK, Johnny told the audience "ahhhhh, you don't really mean it." EMI enabled Johnny to declare "ALL record companies can fuck off!" However, when they left the stage, Johnny bowed down to the crowd and warbled "we're not worthy!" I think he really meant it. The Chicago crowd clearly adored them, and he was giving back.

It was clear to see that the Pistols were having a great time. They were having as much fun as their audience, and I'm hoping this spirit may lead them to venture out on a limb and write some new tunes. They can blow the socks off of anyone, period. The architects of punk should remember that it's not about success or failure….it's about trying and giving it a bash. And they invented the game!

Review by Reene

My son Zach, our friend, Paul, and I all traveled from Dallas, Texas to Chicago to see the Sex Pistols. Zach and I saw them last year in California, and that was a great show, but we were far removed from the stage. My dream has always been to be right there - as close as possible - to look Johnny in the eye. My dream came true Friday night.

We watched the stage being cleared from the huge clutter of the Dropkick Murphys performance; soon it was almost bare, except for Paul's neat drum kit and a couple of guitars. The backdrop (same one they've been using for the last 2 years - low budget or just cheap?) was lowered. Suddenly, Steve strode out, duly followed by John and Glen; Paul was already taking his usual place. Some idiots in the audience immediately tried throwing stuff, but missed John!

John looked great - still a bit of a tummy, but his eyes were clear and sharp, and was that a tan?? He was wearing the same torn-off-sleeves shirt with the Pistols name and biohazard sign on the front, a pair of baggy, shiny pants, running shoes, and half-socks that said "Hustler" on them. They opened with Bodies.

John displayed his "Book of War", a 3-ring binder, that I'm guessing had the set list in it. He did his usual rant against the record companies, used his microphone in rude ways, sneered and grimaced and smiled. He seemed to be having a great time. He connected with Glen a couple of times, getting a smile in return; once he turned to Paul and asked him something, to which Paul responded with an exaggerated shrug.

John talked about having No Fun, and slagged off MTV, the Internet, and Tom Green. He said something about Chicago being all right, and thanked Prez Bush for allowing them to play in his country.

At one point, John looked way up his pant's leg, and then gleefully assured the audience, "It's still there!". He showed his belly. He spat, cleared his nose, wiped it on his shirt. He swigged brandy. He worked the audience, striding from one side to the other, holding the mic out to catch the singing. He faltered on the lyrics, and laughingly admitted, "Forgot the words!". Later, "Who needs rehearsal??" He's like a combination dirty old man/naughty little boy.

During Submission, he went into "hello, I love you, won't you tell me your name". They ended the set with EMI; as we stomped and called for more, John's disembodied voice informed us we would have to do better. We did. They returned, Steve with his shirt pulled up, exposing quite a pot-belly. John invited us to sing along to some song (made up or real?) "I love you, Grandad…", no idea what that was about! Then they went into Anarchy In The USA, ha ha, then Problems.

At the very end, as they were walking off the stage, Glen and Paul threw their water bottles into the audience, baptizing several of the faithful, and we were left to our dreams.

Review by Les Paul

Last night the Sex Pistols came into Chicago and proved a point; they are a great rock 'n' roll band. For people keeping score, the set list is the same and in the same order. The Aragon Ballroom was the perfect venue for the band: old, dirty and with tons of character - just like the band. The Sex Pistols started a little soft, even the Sex Pistols need to get warmed up, but once the band got its grip they tore through their set like a freight train with a demonic engineer at the helm. Johnny is a big, brash personality and he gave it his all. John sounded more like Johnny Rotten than John Lydon of PIL and the Filthy Lucre tour (and he looked fit). Paul Cook is an outstanding drummer. Glen Matlock understands what a great player in this band needs to do and he is perfect. Glen and Paul really keep things tight so Steve Jones can slather a thick wall of guitar on top of the solid bedrock. Steve grimaced to make sure each major chord meant something to the music, not a speck of fluff in his performance and that is the secret to his brilliant playing. The whole band has pride and they are not going to let the Sex Pistols legacy down by hacking it up in front of a couple of thousand fans. With each anthem the band got stronger and more powerful. By the time the band got to Liar and drilled the first twenty bars of the opening D chord in our ear, it was sheer madness. Their first show in Boston of this tour was criticized for being a little sloppy but that is not the case now. Yeah, John blew a couple lines so what! If you want a letter perfect performance then go see Cher and her computerized MTV gig. If you want to see a band with some bollocks - check the Sex Pistols out and enjoy. Oh yeah, they were fucking great.

Review by William I

How often can you see a living legend? Can you name any band that changed the course of music history. Maybe a few. Now try to name the ones that you can still see performing with all the original members. One. Sex Pistols. They rocked the Aaragon Ballroom like nobody's business. The first thing that came through was this is the real deal. No pretence here. No trying to relive some glory days of the past. The Sex Pistols music is intense because they are intense, because they have a unity of vision. Bodies is a great way to start the show and the band is obviously thoroughly enjoying what they do. Smiles abound. Johnny clowns throughout the lyrics and works the crowd into a frenzy making dreams and fantasies come true. Glen and Paul are steady and grooving. Steve has the smirk of the old days. He faces Paul a couple times to concentrate on their interplay. He faces his amplifier to get the desired response. Mostly he faces the crowd playing the riffs that launched 10,000 bands. They really are "having a lot of No Fun lately". It is hard to imagine a more enjoyable show for band and audience alike. See the pistols on this tour, even if you have to travel hundreds of miles. I did. Don't miss it. The encore of Anarchy/Problems alone was worth the price of admission, but it was Holidays In The Sun that really got the crowd going. This band is at the top of their form. They sound much better than they ever did before. As much as things have changed, the Pistols have maybe more relevance today than ever before.

Review by David

I saw the Sex Pistols in Chicago last night. A fantastic show. I saw them in 96 in Chicago also and this show was far better. Same set list as they've been playing, but they were really energized. John made a few George Bush remarks and said how Paul only cleared customs 3 hours before the first show.
Before Belsen John called it "Baghdad Was A Gas to update it however you want." Very cool night indeed and my head still hurts.

©2003 Phil Singleton / www.sex-pistols.net
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