Flogging a dead horse

Let's put this in context, for a kid getting into punk in the early 80s the Sex Pistols were the holy grail, they'd blazed the trail & were gone, lost forever but they remained the iconic punk band, untouchable and the undisputed kings of the genre. That's why when they came back in 1996, despite reservations, we had no option but to trek down to Finsbury Park to see their first UK gig for 18 years and it was a glorious celebration of all they had done for us and for music in general and it was fantastic. This time around, eleven years on, despite reservations and ridiculous ticket prices we had to go and see them again just because of who they are but what a difference a decade makes.

When the band come on the deafening cheer they receive makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up, this is it, the godfathers of punk back in Manchester for the first time in 30 years. They go straight into 'Pretty Vacant' and the crowd goes wild, big screens either side of the stage show Johnny Rotten/John Lydon sneering and scowling into his mic and for a moment it's like a step back in time. Pretty quickly though the initial euphoria wears off and you realise that what you're watching here is a bunch of middle aged guys going through the motions. There's Steve Jones starting to look like Frankie Howard, musically spot on but pretty lifeless and then there's Matlock, who never really seemed to fit in, with his nicely coiffured hair and his shiny blue backed waistcoat being as limp as he ever was and reminding everyone just why they needed to get someone as charismatic as Sid Vicious in to replace him first time around. There's little pause as they go into 'Seventeen' and 'No Feelings' but it's evident already that there is no edge, it's all gone and it's a bitter disappointment. When you think of the Pistols in full flight you think of Rotten spitting out the lyrics with bite and venom but there's precious little of that tonight with only the merest glimpse of it in 'Liar' and 'Problems'.

They play everything you'd expect but with only one studio album in their back catalogue there's not really anything else they could play. 'God Save The Queen' gives way to 'EMI' before they leave the stage, playing the game of rock stars, waiting for the crowd to entice them back for a predictable encore of 'Bodies' and 'Anarchy in the UK'. Make no mistake, to see the whole crowd joining in a mass sing along of 'Anarchy in the UK' is a special moment and of all their songs that's the one everyone has been waiting for and at least ensures that they finish on a high.

When all is said and done though this isn't punk, it's cabaret, it's rip off and it's everything that they were supposed to be against 30 odd years ago. The venue doesn't help, punk was never meant for huge arenas, the Pistols were supposed to be the answer for the everyday kid who had his face pressed up against the glass unable to afford or to relate to the uber bands selling out Wembley and Knebworth. 30 years on and the Pistols have become everything they set out to destroy, part of the game, going through the motions to make a quick buck. I've reviewed over 140 bands this year and probably well over 100 of those have been better, more relevant and more exciting than this tired 'old pals' act. When the Pistols first split in '78 Rotten asked the question 'Ever get the feeling you've been cheated?', tonight his words came back to haunt him.