Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Sex Pistols: August 16, 1996

Maybe the situation was particularly loaded because the band symbolized anti-establishmentarianism to so many, or maybe it was because of the acrimonious way the members had parted ways, but a lot of people greeted the Sex Pistols' 1996 reunion with anger or derision. It probably didn't help matters that the group baited critics by naming the tour Filthy Lucre and releasing a live album to cash in on it. Regardless of whether I felt skeptical about the artistic merit of the tour or the motivations behind it, I certainly wasn't going to sit it out. At the time, the reunion seemed to come out of nowhere and could well have been as tenuous as it was unexpected. Besides, it had been four years since lead singer John Lydon's Public Image Ltd. had released the disappointing, and at the time seemingly final, album That What Is Not so for a fan the Pistols reunion was the only game in town.

Cobo Arena is part of a sprawling convention center and this caused a weird clash of cultures when gingham-clad attendees of a square dance convention were filtering through the building at the same time as the Sex Pistols fans. It might have been cool if people really were going to a Pistols show wearing square dance outfits, though!

The gig itself was a huge letdown. I certainly didn't expect an anarchic spectacle from middle-aged men on a large-scale tour, but I also wasn't prepared for their stiff professionalism. They played the songs -- of which there aren't really that many, are there? -- skillfully and true to the studio versions. But those songs had a humor and energy that was totally lacking during the show, and the presence of an audience seemed to have little effect. When Lydon reconstituted PiL for a tour in 2010, it was quite a different story. At the later PiL gig, he had the spark, even if it wasn't lit at Cobo Arena that night in 1996.

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