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REVIEWS Washington '03

God Save The Sex Pistols exclusive reviews!

Washington, DC - 9:30 club: 24th August 2003

Set List: Bodies / Seventeen / New York / No Feelings / God Save The Queen / Liar / Belsen Was a Gas / Holidays In The Sun / No Fun / Submission / Pretty Vacant / EMI  Encore: Anarchy In The UK / Problems [thanks Kristin Kendall]

Review by Jon Mertz

The Sex Pistols took the stage at Washington DC's longest-running punk venue, the 9:30 Club, on Sunday night without the usual baggage of unwanted opening acts. Although I'd been up for seeing the Rev. Horton Heat and was curious about the Dropkick Murphys, I remembered the interminable drudgery of standing through Stabbing Westward and Gravity Kills at Roseland in '96. So when a club employee told me there was no opening act, I was surprised but not disappointed.

Doors opened at 7:30, by which time a line of old punks, young wannabes, and curious tourists had formed a predominantly black-clad line down the block from the nondescript blue building which houses the club (the 9:30 was originally in downtown DC back in the day, I gather; it's now closer to Silver Spring in a bad section of town). Two guys half-heartedly patted down every third or fourth patron, and the line moved steadily into the club...a rotting ballroom, with scuffed parquet flooring and exposed wiring, a high ceiling and a balcony around 3/4 of the room. Surveying my surroundings it seemed that this might well be the PERFECT place to see the Pistols. Behind the stage hung a huge tapestry of heraldic symbols. The thought occurred to me that it might be some sort of obscure insult back home in Blighty, but it was just a colorful backdrop of primary colors here in the USA. I walked to the bar and got a drink and staked out a place on the floor three people back from the stage in front of Steve's amps.

For two hours a mix tape played; it seemed to be a greatest hits of the class of '77 era punk movement. Fresh-faced kids mouthed the words to Chinese Rocks. Sonic Reducer, Homicide, Complete Control - I can't believe these songs are now nostalgia and I am disturbed by a reverie - a horrible dream where I'm in my 40s and so are the Pistols and "See No Evil" is an OLDIE, as is the next song, Blank Generation, but wait, it's NOT a dream - it's the dismal truth!

The houselights went down about 9:30 and after a minute's delay Glen Matlock walked out, waving and smiling, followed by Paul Cook. A roadie put Steve's Les Paul over his shoulder as Johnny took center stage and said hello. He looked, oddly enough, GOOD - thinner than '96, hair less severe. The relative fitness was set off a bit by the fact that he's missing a tooth. He was wearing a blue plaid shirt with the sleeves ripped off and baggy grey pants. He looks accusingly at the audience. "Some of you know who we are. Some of you DON'T know who we are. WE ARE THE REAL DEAL." The band launched into Bodies and the ballroom floor exploded; the hilarious mixture of teenagers, people in their 30s, people in their 40s, frat boys and cute girls, real punks and faux, all compressed into one another like a wrecked car being crushed into a cube. "Fuck this and fuck THAT," howled Johnny, the crowd howling along as they pushed and pulled and leapt and crashed, yet it was all play, and no one was being really hurt. "She don't want a baby 'at looks like that," Johnny snarled, pointing to himself. "I don't want a baby that looks like that!", pointing at the audience.

Liar followed, then New York...do we really need to dis the Dolls at this late date? They, like most of the Pistols' competition, are long dead. No matter, a great song. No Feelings was botched a bit, and Johnny let the audience sing some of it. "You know the words," he said. Actually, the audience knew all the words to everything; the great catharsis of the show came in screaming oneself hoarse, venting rages real and invented. During God Save The Queen, the crowd resembled a school of fish in a feeding frenzy - the dancefloor boiled with flailing bodies, and I was crushed from every side, pressed in upon myself. I could feel the blood pounding at my pulsepoints and as Johnny led us in a snarling singalong of "No future, no future, no future for you," I began to have the feeling that I could have a heart attack and die, giving the lyrics a literal as well as abstract truth. If I die, I thought, no one will notice until the crowd disperses and my body hits the floor.

However, the song ended, the crowd relaxed a few millimeters and I was able to breathe; I even caught a hint of air conditioning for a second, and my strength returned. No Fun followed, the only cover song of the night, and the turgid tempo gave everyone a bit of a breather; Seventeen brought the energy level back up as the crowd chanted "I'm a lazy sod." At some point Johnny lifted his shirt and showed us his scrawny white torso. He asked if we liked his nipples and informed us that love handles are fashionable, which I was certainly relieved to hear. Belsen Was A Gas followed, and gave Johnny the soapbox to talk politics. I was a bit surprised by the lameness of the remarks. "Washington DC! Where's George? Hiding behind his Bush?" Then he said "See you in Baghdad." Later he got REALLY worked up, asking us pointedly why there isn't enough toilet paper in Iraq, and told us to support our allies. I have no idea what he was on about.

Submission, Holidays In The Sun, and Pretty Vacant followed, all pounded out of the same pig iron. When it comes to playing this particular brand of music, it's hard to imagine anyone (except maybe the Stooges) doing it better, or more efficiently - the basic building blocks of relentless power chords, bludgeoning drums and bass and sarcastic, snotty, rage-filled vocals are combined again and again, and each time it works perfectly. The Pistols are smart not to record any new material, because they really couldn't improve on what they've already done - there are only so many ways to combine the few elements.

Johnny then launched into a little tirade about record companies, the gist of which was: they're dying so we should kick them to hurry along the process. EMI followed, of course, and after the last lyric - "goooood BYE", Johnny said "We're going off for a smoke break. If you want more, you know what to do."

The crowd had a hard time getting itself worked up for the encore. Clapping would start, synch up into a rhythm and then peter out. We tried cheering but everyone was hoarse from singing every song. Throughout the crowd, a few loud assholes jeered. "Old farts! You're too old to do it! Sex Pistols suck!!" yelled a square-headed frat boy next to me. I noticed he was wearing a new $35 Sex Pistols t-shirt. Another asshole yelled "Sellouts!!" and threw a dollar bill up onstage as the band returned. The thought that these guys might be getting RICH from playing this tiny club is ridiculous.

The band stormed into Anarchy In The UK and really, it just doesn't get any better or purer or more perfect than that moment. The crowd redoubled its efforts to combine itself into one big heap of arms and heads, men were passed overhead kicking and squirming, and Johnny pointed to the rafters as he howled himself hoarse. The band, in a rare display of dynamics, quieted down a bit as Johnny led us in a singalong of "I wanna be anarchy". "Do you REALLY?" he mocked, after they had cranked the song back up and brought it to a thunderous conclusion . "Then what's stopping you?".

The final song, Problems, was a bit anticlimactic. Johnny didn't have a lot of voice left, so we sang it for him. The band members bowed, and Steve threw his unopened bottles of water into the crowd. I grabbed one from the floor and drank some and splashed some in my face as we slowly edged out of the building. I was with the same group of friends that went to Roseland in '96, and I reckoned that Pistols shows were good yardsticks by which to measure our rate of decay. The Pistols have held up better than we had any reason to expect, and so have we. As I breathed the cool night air and stripped off my drenched t-shirt, I felt more alive than I have for a good while.

Review by the Smoking Dog

House-lights down. Feedback humming. Shadowy figures taking up positions on the stage, awaiting the signal. Awaiting the voice: "Hello Washington. Maybe you know who we are. Then again, maybe you fucking don't."

And then they were off, thundering into the chainsaw grind of Bodies, Lydon laying it down about that long-ago girl from Birmingham. Maybe she's dead now. Maybe she never existed. Who knows? It didn't matter. What mattered was that the band we had come to see had climbed into the ring. And that the Old Goat himself stood before us, spit flying from his mouth, his trademark eyes bugging out of his head. His voice was a roller coaster ride across the notes: a word couched in a plea, a plea dissolving into a snarl, a snarl become a scream--and all the way accompanied by all manner of gesticulations. His band-mates were a study in contrast, scarcely moving--in fact, Jones played much of the first few songs crouching up against the St. George's cross-emblazoned amps, his back to the audience as he unleashed the runaway-train rhythms and howling leads that have made him one of the most imitated guitarists in rock.

As for that audience: it was what you might expect. It was at cross-purposes with itself. The remnants of D.C.'s hardcore scene mixed with a newer generation of fringers, with all too many of the merely curious thrown in. More than anything else, it was the crowd that held this band back tonight--specifically, the people who looked like they'd be more at home interning for their favorite Republican than paying any real attention to a band that occasionally gets mentioned in Rolling Stone and whose frontman was on VH1 a couple years back, but other than that. . . hey, can I get another Bud Lite?

Lydon forced them to pay attention, though. "I just have one question for you, Washington," he shouted, "When the hell are the people of Iraq going to get workable toilet paper?" The crowd noise sagged, and Lydon pressed home his advantage: "No answer for that, huh? You've got nothing to say!" He was right. We didn't. But we also saw Lydon's playful side as well a few songs later, as he pulled up his shirt and grasped his nipple: "Lovely nipple, eh?" To be followed, moments later, by a similar tugging of his belly: "Didn't they tell you that spare tires were fashionable?" Such was the pattern of the evening, as Lydon flitted between anger, mock-anger, and more straightforward humor in a display that was almost as impressive as the sound that his band was bludgeoning the packed 9:30 club with.

But neither that banter nor those songs could belie the fact that this band--or at least Lydon himself--was unable to move the audience along the vectors they wished to move them. The penultimate Anarchy was the most telling, Lydon cutting through the singalong chorus to inform the crowd that they didn't really mean it, and then reacting to their proclaiming themselves anarchists by asking them what was stopping them. At the end of Problems, he left the stage saying "I hope you listened tonight. I hope you learned something. That anyone can do this thing," before throwing the mike over his shoulder and departing.

Did we learn something? Maybe we did. I would argue that, at the very least, we got some insight into what it is that has possessed this band to get back out upon the road to play this, their sixth show in seven years. Mid-life crisis, you say? There's probably some of that, sure. But that's only a part of it. It's strange: on one level, this is a band that has nothing more to prove. On the other hand, they proved something tonight anyway: that they've outlasted all their contemporaries, and yet they're still far fresher and more vital than any other group now out there. This was a band that looked old, but sounded young. Young in thought as well: Lydon's (apparently quite serious) plans to play in Baghdad would suggest that he has no intention whatsoever of putting his insurgent roots behind him.

Which is as it should be. The Sex Pistols were founded upon the paradox of simultaneous assault upon, and embracing of, their audience. That was the formula that propelled them, almost in spite of themselves, to greatness, and it's a formula whose potential is something that they continue to tap. And no one can say what the final chapter in this saga might be. Because, above all else, this is a band that remains beyond all hope of definition. In 1975, they were kids facing bleak streets and an even bleaker future. In 1977, they committed twelve songs to vinyl that were so incendiary that a nation condemned them almost on reflex. In 1978, they imploded with remorseless logic. Then they rose again. Tonight-impossibly-they stood before us. With the exact same songs they started out with. Any other band: that would have been nostalgia. It would have been a sell-out. Not with this one. Why? Because prophets don't work the way ordinary mortals do. Nor does holy writ. This message was laid down more than a quarter-century ago. It hasn't changed a bit. It hasn't needed to.

Review by Kristin Kendal

I got to see the Pistols at the Patriot Center in Fairfax Virginia in 1996, and I thought that was the greatest night of my life, but the show last night definitely topped it! There was no opening act, and they did come on about 2 1/2 hours after the doors opened, but it was well worth the wait!

They had a lot more stage presence than they did when I saw them in 1996 and everyone in the band seemed to be enjoying themselves a lot more. John had great energy and really got the crowd into it. When he held the microphone out into the crowd, the whole band seemed very happy that everyone was singing the songs so loud. Paul and Glen were very solid and sounded just great. Steve's performance was good too; he missed the solo a bit on Anarchy In The UK, but other than that he was great. He was jumping around and smiling at the crowd and it seemed like he was having a great time. He did play with his back to the crowd a little bit, but only on a couple of songs.

I was right up front, and to my surprise one of the bouncers just handed me a pass. So, after the show, about 10 people with passes were told to wait upstairs and we may or may not meet any of the band. After about half an hour Glen came out and signed autographs for everyone, and hung out and talked and took pictures, then he went back stage again. We all waited for about another 20 minutes, and then we were told that we could go back in the dressing room. So the five of us that were left went in the back and saw Glen again for a few more minutes and then he went down to the bus. Paul was there though, and he is an exceptionally nice person. He sat with us and signed autographs, took pictures with people, and then he just hung out and talked with us. It was so much fun to just sit back stage and hang out with Paul Cook. I never thought I would be doing that. He even gave me a Corona. There was no sight of John or Steve. Paul told us they were already on the bus. After about 40 minutes Paul left for the bus too. He said they were driving to Canada that night. So...that is my night! It was great and I'll remember it forever! If you have the chance to see the Pistols on this tour, GO! You won't regret it!

Review by G3

Let's just say right off, the night was a surprising one. But what would anyone expect? For a band that has been (in)famous for over the past quarter century, they don't rest on laurels. For a set list, please see the reviews for the three previous shows for they are the same. What differed this night - from other noted reviews that stated occasional and trivial performance flaws - was the spot-on performance for every single song, along with a bit of live embellishment.

Although fans of the sold-out show expected an opener from either The Rev or Murphys or both, they were soon removed of all doubt as to whether or not they were "feeling cheated" when the foursome came on stage. No sooner than hitting the stage did the Sex Pistols break into Bodies and an agitated Johnny demanded security be moved to the sides of the stage. Security positioned between the Pistols and the people was promptly set aside, setting the precedent for what would be an intimate evening with the Pistols. Never in all the years of attending shows had I witnessed such authority over authority, alongside Johnny declaring a warm welcome to the fans, "Don't worry about me, people, I don't bite. I'm on your side."

For the rest of the set - lasting slightly over an hour - the Pistols played all the faves plus more with the band in great form musically and physically with Steve still spending a majority of the night hiding his guitar playing by keeping his back to the audience, Glen and Paul icing the rhythms with refreshing fills, and Johnny dishing the expected banter and mockery we've come to know and love. Johnny - though not one fan was the recipient of one of his patented snot-rockets - naturally had the forum to address such topics as wannabe punks "Piss off, you internet fashion victim," performing public service announcements "Wherever you learned to be a punk by spitting, stop it, or I'll knock your fucking teeth in," politicians "Hey DC, how's Georgie doing? Still hiding behind his Bush?," foreign policy "You sure know how to pick your allies...!" life after 40 "Spare tires are fashionable," and performance etiquette "We're going for a smoke now....If you want to hear some more, you let us know." Only to return with an encore that stirred up an already frenzied crowd. Not a disappointing experience in the least.

Review by Porter

Pretty rad show at the 1,000 person capacity 9:30 Club in DC! If you've never been to the 9:30 Club, it's very well organized, and probably feels like a 300-500 person club. The Pistols were the only band that played. They took the stage at 9:30.

The set was pretty close to the Filthy Lucre Live CD, except they played Belsen Was A Gas and No Fun and didn't play Did You No Wrong, Satellite, or Stepping Stone. All and all it was an awesome show, the band sounded pretty damn tight, a few slips here and there, but that's why it's live music. Johnny was great, getting the bouncers away from the stage, and playing with the crowd: yelling at non-thinking, stupid spitting punks, and saying they (the Pistols) are no fakes, they're the real thing, which was proven. I really loved it, I'm in a band and go to a lot of shows, large and small, but this was by far the fastest show ever. They played for about an hour, but I was having such a great time it flew by. I was right up front, I got about 20+ band pictures with the disposal camera I bought before I went.

All and all, the show was rad, just a ton of fun and the band seemed to really be enjoying it. It was really cool to see them at a small place. This was my first time seeing them, and I loved every second of it.

Review by Jeff Ball
Checked out the show last night in D.C. Good show! Not a great show. Steve playing to his amps a lot was a let down. He's a guitar god & his back is turned on us far too many times. Still, he nailed the solos, especially on No Feelings & Submission - excellent. John was in great form, best I've ever seen him. Glen & Paul formed a great thundering backbeat. It was very loud & I was standing at the mixing board straight back about 15 yards away. I would have loved to hear Did You No Wrong. They should drop Belsen, that's all I would change in the set. All in all I'm happy to have seen my fave band again, especially in a club. If they had played a sit down theatre, I probably would have stayed away. God love 'em, the Pistols rocked! Cheers!

Review by Frank Moriarty
I would only add one thing to the reviews of the fabulous DC show. After Problems, the second song of the encore, John started to follow Steve, Paul, and Glen off stage. But he paused, and returned to the mic to state, "You see, people - anyone can do this!" The idea of individuality - and the fact that anyone can play rock and roll - was always at the heart of the Pistols music, and it's great to see that John still pushes that concept in the face of so much slavish imitation.

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