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REVIEWS San Francisco '03

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San Francisco, CA - Warfield Theatre: 3rd September 2003

Review by 'M'
Ever get the feeling someone loves you?

That feeling was in the air at the Warfield Theater Wednesday night as the Sex Pistols played a veritable Lovefest 2003. Yes, it's been a long, fucked-up road since Winterland '78, both for the Pistols and San Francisco, but reconciliation can be a powerful thing - and who better to exemplify that than Mr. Rotten himself.

From the moment the lights went down and the four warriors hit the stage, we knew we were in for something unique; this was a far cry from their impersonal arena tour of '96. This was the real deal, the in-your-face experience that made the early Pistols shows the dynamic events that they truly were. "Don't you dare spit on me, you losers," Johnny taunted some overeager fans near the front of the stage as he took his position. Ahhh... it was good to hear his voice again. Just then the band ripped into Bodies, and the place went wild. I'm talking insane, but it wasn't your standard "hey, it's a punk show, let's cause trouble" type of vibe; it was a wave of sheer joy that swept over the crowd, as if we were welcoming back our long-lost brothers after years of exile, a roar of approval that said "Hey, welcome back, ya bastards. We missed you."

And miss them we truly did. It was a wave of love that swept the theater, a love for the band that San Francisco fans had kept alive and burning over the years, despite the naysayers, and had kept ever faithful to because, dammit, we got it, we understood it, and it was 100% obvious to anyone who stood in the theater that night. The band picked up on that vibe immediately and reflected back that same love - the Pistols just love an audience that gets it - and rewarded us by putting on an unforgettable show filled with mutual respect and admiration.

Johnny, for instance, was in his pure form. Twenty seven years of being the most misunderstood figure in rock 'n roll should make a man extremely bitter, but there was no bitterness here - no mocking of the people standing in the back, or of those sitting up in the balcony as he had done at previous PIL gigs. He had only love and respect for this crowd, whether it was constantly low-fiving the people crammed up against the front stage barrier or pointing up to the balcony crowd (most of whom were all on their feet waving and rocking out as hard as the fans down on the floor) and saying "thank you" with wide, appreciative eyes. He reaffirmed his appreciation by holding up a mysterious white binder with The Book of War written across it in black marker and saying, with a smile, "This is the book of Warfield tonight!" Yes, it was obvious. The ghosts of Winterland were long gone and, standing there amidst all that love, one couldn't help but wonder if it had all really happened in the first place.

But the most startling display of respect came not from the crowd, but from onstage, within the band itself. The four bitter kids who hated each others guts - and were egged on in their hatred by inept svengali Malcolm Mclaren - are middle-aged men now, and in their older, wiser state they seem to have developed a profound respect and understanding for one another; they had, after all, sacrificed a part of thier youth to change the world, and in doing so they unwittingly developed a bond that is unique only to the four of them, a bond they will carry with them the rest of their lives. And we couldn't help but notice, as we stood there watching, that that bond had also developed into a unique friendship, a camaraderie, an idea that would have seemed impossible ten or fifteen years ago. The most obvious example of this came in the onstage dynamic between John and Glen, two old dragons from the past who were the bitterest of enemies and who we were sure would never see eye to eye on anything, much less ever be seen in the same room together - yet there they were, two ex-rivals sharing the stage and having the time of their lives, with John occasionally throwing Glen goofy glances, or staggering over to him during guitar solos, and Glen looking up at John, grinning and laughing back, giving hope to the rest of us that someday we, too, will be able to sit down with our bitterest of enemies, have a drink and say, with all honesty, that all is forgiven.

Then there was Steve - Steve is always a pleasure to watch because he always seems happiest when he is with the Sex Pistols. Steve was the first one to come back out onstage during the encore, and for a brief moment he stood there alone with a spotlight on him, his arms raised in triumph as the crowd cheered him on. Then John came out and stood next to him. "This is the number one guitar god right here, in case you didn't know," John said as the crowd roared its approval. "We're not worthy!" he continued praising, making the bow-down gesture. John then informed us that it was Steve's birthday. "He looks good for 21, doesn't he?" he asked before leading the crowd in a sloppy rendition of "Happy Birthday". Then, in the most touching moment of the night, John turned to him and said, "Happy birthday, Steve. God bless," with the air of two drinking buddies who had weathered the storms of many successes and failures over the years, and had both grown wiser as a result.

And of course Paul, good old Paul, watching over the proceedings like a silent sentinel from behind his drumkit, keeping everything together and driving it forward, as loyal and dependable as ever, secure yet never arrogant in his place as the foundation of one of the most important bands in rock 'n' roll history. Yes, the Pistols have definitely developed into the band that they were meant to be from the very beginning, and both the band and the crowd were loving it. "But do you really fucking mean it?" John taunted during the sing-along to Anarchy In The U.K. The crowd roared its response. "Well, I believe you do really fucking mean it!"

Of course, this being a Pistols gig, there were a few incidents. The funniest moment occurred near the end of Anarchy, when a fan near the front of the stage chucked a plastic water bottle squarely at John's chest. John was mock-appalled, and immediately threw up a challenge. "How dare you throw that bottle at me!" he said, spitting in the culprit's general direction. "Come on up here and try that again." The culprit wouldn't, so John began pointing at him, chanting "Wanker, wanker," over and over again, which got the entire theater chanting "Wanker! Wanker! Wanker!" The wanker tried to hide in the crowd, but John kept pointing him out, saying "You! You're out of here!" The crowd cheered as security ejected him from the theater. "This next song is for people like him," John said as the band launched into the final number, Problems.

This had been an excellent gig, Johnny knew, and he spent most of the closing number showing his appreciation by giving as many low-fives and bow-downs to the crowd as possible. When the song was over, the band convened at the front of the stage to take a few bows and wave 'bye' to the crowd. "Thank you, San Francisco!" said John. "You've been the best crowd yet!" (John reinforced that statement the very next night on the Jimmy Kimmel show, where he took a moment to look at the camera and say "By the way, thank you, San Francisco. You really did us good.") John lingered a bit onstage after the band had left, still showing his appreciation by waving to as many fans as possible. Feel the love, baby!

As the lights came on and the crowd filed out of the Warfield and onto Market St., there seemed to be a quiet, subdued air over everyone, as if we were all still going over in our minds what we had just witnessed: the eternal band playing the eternal gig. They are, after all, the band we grew up listening to, the band we cut our teeth on, and, to some extent, the band that helped us shape our world view. They are our brothers, and we'll miss them.

Rock on, Pistols. 'Til next time....

Review by Gil Warguez
"You're the best crowd yet!" (Johnny Rotten)

It's been 25 years since the Sex Pistols played in San Francisco (the Filthy Lucre Tour show I attended in the Bay Area was actually in Mountain View, about a 45-minute drive south of SF). The Warfield is an old theater with a capacity of about 2,000, so it's less than half the size of Winterland (5,400 cap). The Pistols hit the stage at around 9:40 with Johnny wearing a maroon/yellow "Sex Pistols (Biohazard symbol) America" sleeveless t-shirt and yellow pants, Steve in a Seditionaries/SEX repro "You're Gonna Wake Up...+ Nude Boy" t-shirt, Glen in the skull and cross/swordbones t-shirt, and Paul in a pink t-shirt. Johnny first asked the audience, "Do you want a banana?", then tossed one into the crowd. He opened his "Book (Binder) of War" (which he later referred to as the "Book of Warfield"), and the band launched into Bodies.They were in excellent form tonight (only Paul showed up for sound check), and the only song I noticed that Johnny had a bit of trouble with was EMI. Steve faced the crowd most of the time, only turning his back occasionally to face Paul. Glen joined in with Steve at one point to face Paul.

During New York, after the final "Well, kiss this!", Johnny partially lifted his shirt and patted his belly. Throughout, Johnny was very animated and playful. Banter included rants against record labels, telling the audience members that they too can form their own band. Johnny asked, "If I'm the grandfather of punk, does that mean that Ozzy Osbourne is my son?", then proceeded to make a crack about Kelly Osbourne being considered "a punk." Prior to either Holidays In The Sun or No Fun,Johnny started mock-singing, "If you're going to San Francisco, remember to wear some flowers in your hair..."

For the encore, when the band re-took the stage, Johnny informed the audience, "Today is Steve's birthday" and led the crowd into a "Happy Birthday to You" sing-a-long, with Steve smiling in appreciation. Johnny then turned to Steve and said, "God bless you, Steve. Looking good for 21!" The band went into a rousing performance of Anarchy In The UK/USA. When JR heard the crowd sing the final "I wanna be anarchy!", Johnny asked, "Do you mean it?" After the crowd responded by singing "I wanna be anarchy!" as loudly as they could, Johnny commented, "I think you mean it!". Following Anarchy, someone in the pit threw a nearly full bottle of water at Johnny. Unpleased (to put it mildly), Johnny reprimanded the malcontent, "Come here! You're going home!" and led the crowd into a "Wanker! Wanker!" chant, until security removed the "hippy" (as Johnny called him). "I've got a song about people like him," Johnny added, before the band ended the set with Problems. The crowd was very responsive during the entire set, and Johnny said he appreciated it. In fact, Johnny remarked, "You're the best crowd yet!"

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