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Last Updated: Friday, 9 November 2007, 11:27 GMT
The great Sex Pistols pantomime
By Jon Kelly
BBC News

John Lydon performing with Sex Pistols
John Lydon is still a crowd-puller, 30 years after punk's heyday
The Sex Pistols staged their latest comeback at London's Brixton Academy on Thursday evening - but what can fans expect, three decades after their sensational peak?

Good clean fun. A proper old-fashioned night's entertainment.

Just what we've come to expect from Johnny Rotten and his fellow Sex Pistols.

No, really. After an evening that owes more to music hall than the MC5, you begin to wonder if erstwhile antichrist John Lydon is angling for a career change - tea-time game show host, perhaps.

As the band take to the stage, he cackles: "Nice to see you, to see you..."

The crowd take their cue. "Nice!"

It is an appropriate opener. Lydon knows that the days when the Sex Pistols genuinely struck fear into establishment hearts are long behind them.

Which is why, in his new, post-reality TV role as quirky national character, he plays the pantomime villain as enthusiastically as other any seasoned entertainer of three decades' vintage.

Strutting with mock-malevolence, hunched and gurning, he displays all the subversive menace and countercultural verve of Christopher Biggins playing Baron Hardup.


You could take your gran, if she didn't mind the swearing. After all, much of the crowd are grandparents themselves.

"Half a century young!", Lydon sneers, his sarcasm directed at himself as much as the balding forty-and-fiftysomething pates that shine whenever the lights fall on the audience.

John Lydon performing with Sex Pistols
Johnny's looking a bit fatter, but he's still the same
Bill Butler
Sex Pistols fan

The Sex Pistols are not, after all, an act who could ever grow old gracefully. The shock tactics, the wilful rejection of musical virtuosity, were a breath of fresh air in 1977.

Everyone here recalls the outraged tabloid headlines, the foul-mouthed TV appearances, the religious leaders picketing gigs and declaring that Sex Pistols were degenerate and satanic.

But maintaining that outrage was always going to be an impossible task.

When the Pistols first reformed in 1996, there was a genuine sense of occasion. The aura of the most notorious group of their generation had been allowed to build since they split 18 years previously.

But now, on their third comeback, the Pistols' current reunion tour is no more controversial than the one recently staged by Take That.

Both acts, after all, were assembled by an older svengali - Malcolm McLaren, in the case of the pistols, a man who has just demonstrated his grasp of Situationism and semiotics by following his former charge into the I'm A Celebrity jungle.

And - most importantly - Sex Pistols were always, like Gary Barlow and company, essentially a pop band.

Lydon's sneer and guitarist Steve Jones' pounding riffs always framed what was the key to their appeal - singalong melodies.

And so tonight the crowd hollers along like a football terrace to all the big numbers - Pretty Vacant, Holidays In the Sun, EMI.

Songs once deemed subversive - Anarchy in the UK, God Save the Queen - are somewhat stripped of their nihilism and vitriol when an ecstatic room largely populated by middle-aged men bellow along jubilantly.

'Amazing to see'

The acoustics at the Brixton Academy may not guarantee easy listening at the best of times, but Paul Cook's thumping drums and Glen Matlock's skilful bass at least provide a steady rhythm for pogoing.

Surveying the paunches that fill the front row, Lydon asks: "Anyone under 40 in the crowd?"

The cheer is the most subdued of the night.

"I saw them 30 years ago," says Bill Butler, a 42-year-old hedge fund manager. "This is probably sacrilegious, but it's good to see them again.

"Johnny's looking a bit fatter, but he's still the same."

Not all of the audience are reliving a bygone youth, however. Evie Lewis, 15, is one of a sprinkling of younger fans who recognise the Pistols' legacy.

"My mum and dad both listened to them when I was younger, so it's amazing to come and see them play," she says.

"It doesn't matter how old they are, you have to admire their attitude."

And tonight most of the crowd agree.

The Sex Pistols don't want to destroy the passers-by anymore, it seems. They want to put on a vaudeville show instead.

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