Sex Pistols

David Barnett 08/11/2007

"We ain't gonna be playing when we're 30, 40 years old like Pete Townshend and all the rest." Steve Jones, 1977. He's now 50.

"I'm gonna be dead by the time I'm 21." Sid Vicious, 1977. He's now dead.

Ah, the conundrums and contradictions of the world's most perfect band deliberately disemboweling themselves 30 years on. So it turns out Sid was right and the rest of them were big fibbers. Another one-off reunion. The third or fourth at the last count. More Filthy Lucre? At least they're honest. And ask yourself - how many people do you know who don't do their job largely for the money? I know I do.

Brixton Academy is bursting at the seams. The intro music is "There'll always be an England!" which has the entire crowd - an odd mix of trendy teenagers and middle-aged men - singing their hearts out. What might normally have a whiff of a BNP rally is warm-hearted enough to be genuinely affecting. No doubt about it, this is going to be a night to remember.

Heeeeeeeeeeeere's Johnny! The moronic chimes of Pretty Vacant ring out. The sound is muddied and flat. Rotten, who could once make armies drop dead just by staring at them, actually seems ... nervous. I wince at the appalling realisation that Glen Matlock somehow looks like the cool one. The crowd is subdued, singing along half-heartedly to that most thuggish of choruses. "And we don't care." Well quite.

No Feelings is better, picking up the pace. Then Mr Lydon (or should that be Lie-down?) gets lost, stops singing a verse early and struggles to catch up. As they fumble and trundle through the workaday filler numbers like Liar, New York and No Fun these four pantomime whores gradually find their feet. The punters warm to Rotten and he to them as he extracts the urine from himself, his bandmates and the audience, in turns embarrassing and hilarious, bollocks and brilliant.

Then during EMI something magical happens. It's as if a great big switch has been flicked and a shot of electricity surges through each person in the room simultaneously. "EEEYEMEYE!" we holler gleefully and I'm almost shocked to discover that I'm bouncing about like Zebedee. They wheel out the big guns - Bodies, God Save The Queen, Holidays in the Sun - timeless reminders of what all the fuss was about in the first place. By the time they climax with Anarchy In The UK, they're very close to magnificent.

The sole encore is the only real surprise of the evening - a terrifying version of their most controversial song - Belsen Was A Gas - once threatened to be their fifth single but perhaps fortunately never recorded. A tasteless pun that doesn't even make sense - there weren't any gas chambers at Belsen - the lyrics are changed to Baghdad Was A Blast. I'm not sure whether that makes it more or less offensive but it's shockingly powerful and for a brief moment the old men doddering about on stage are replaced by the REAL Sex Pistols, snarling, spitting, filthy and furious. The ghost of its author, one Sidney Vicious strokes his chin and nods approvingly. It's enough.