Sex Pistols, Crystal Palace Sports Centre, London

The architects of anti-everything bring a strange sense of belonging to their fans

Steve Jelbert
Thursday 16 January 2014 02:14
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There is a glorious moment while the rather grizzled survivors of The Sex Pistols are thrashing through the ever timely "Holidays In The Sun" ("cheap holidays in other people's misery"). Concorde, that classic seventies symbol of modernity and the great future we were all going to enjoy, once the price had come down a bit, makes a presumably unscheduled flypast. John Lydon, to this day the nation's most sardonic man, would surely have enjoyed the irony.

On a wonderful summer's day the Sex Pistols, no longer the teenagers who actually offended the powers that be (and their own manager) by expressing opinions of their own, gave presumably their last ever public appearance.

It's a celebration of a certain kind of Britishness. Not so much non-conformity – there are far too many crop-haired moderately prosperous middle aged dads present for that – but a chance to revel in nostalgia for the days when a lack of deference actually meant something.

As their concession to our patience (and surviving a truly lousy supporting bill, saved partly by feisty Texans, And You Shall Know Us By The Trail of Dead, who bait the crowd into hurling objects, many with surprising accuracy and distance. Who could have known that punk and cricket were so intimately connected?) the Pistols play every song they've ever been associated with.

Nobody could have imagined the opener, a crude version of Hawkwind's 1972 biker favourite "Silver Machine", delightfully mutated into "I've got a silver jubilee". As well as the obvious classics (a coruscating version of "Liar", where Lydon for once doesn't sing with his usual "don't take this too seriously" tone, a fantastic "Did You No Wrong", surely the best B-side released between the Beatles and Pistols-worshipping Oasis), there are plenty of covers too ("We're going to have a right larf" warns Lydon). A fearsome take on the Monkees' "Stepping Stone" and a chaotic thrash through the Who's "Substitute" (dedicated to "Entwistle – he's in a better place than us") have appeared on record, but The Creation's pop-psych classic "Through My Eyes", though beautifully played by Jones, Matlock and Cook, is a melody too far for Lydon.

He is quite fantastic by the way. Wearing a shirt with the word "sorry" printed on its front, he cajoles, needles and whines at the crowd throughout, fully aware of his continuing role as a cultural irritant. The old punk maxim "never trust a hippy" has now mutated into "never trust a toff", referring to Tony Blair. This man is wasted hosting revival nights for the middle-aged – someone should stick him on Newsnight. The Doors choice of The Cult's Ian Astbury over this Anglo-Californian as a surrogate Jim Morrison is a missed opportunity.

He can't take the essential gravity out of "Anarchy In The UK" (complete with ill-judged singalong section) and the inevitable, and furious, closer "God Save The Queen". It's hardly relevant how good the band were. The world's changed in 25 years, but they played their part in that.

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