Hope you die before we get old

Reunited Who and Sex Pistols cheat death one more time

When Rotten and company take the stage--"Are you r-r-r-ready?"--and rip into "Bodies," a giant roar of appreciation goes up. An audience of 20,000--arm in arm, laughing, dancing--sings along as if to a Christmas carol: "She was a girl from Birmingham! She just had an abortion!"

Wheee! There is no denying that the rest of the Pistols' set is one long white riot, with the audience full of good cheer and chanting, "No future! no future!" like so many idiot savants. It is all very unsettling. This evening the Pistols are introduced by two English football stars, Gareth Southgate and Stuart Pearce, the latter of whom swears that Never Mind the Bollocks is his "favorite band ever." Is this someone's idea of irony: "Look, the same people who loathed us before now love us, 20 years later?"

"No way," sneers Lindsay Hutton, editor of the fanzine Next Big Thing. "It's meant exactly as it is--as the worst kind of night out with the lads drinking, part of this whole ridiculous English nationalistic football fervor."

Ugh. If popular music reflects popular culture, then the world--particularly Britain--is in a sorry state right now. This week's Melody Maker, for example, is full of praise for the 60 Foot Dolls, revolting Welsh musicians who brag in interviews that they literally like to take shits on their groupies after having sex with them, presumably to show them who is boss. Not a very promising indication of things to come: Melody Maker notwithstanding, the Dolls surely will not help Brit-pop--or rock 'n' roll itself--get over this year of dread reunions.

In fact, all that is left to right-thinking common people is nostalgia, and perhaps a sense of humor about events like these. Our stars are dying, our heroes are humiliating themselves, the latest bands are loathsome creeps--kind of like 1976.

The backstage area at the Pistols' show is a madhouse, like something out of Robert Frank's Stones movie, Cocksucker Blues. It is full of minor pop stars, old punks, and American record-label employees who yack through every band. Every time a band comes on, guests stream onto the field to watch the show "for real," but it is all very perfunctory. During the Pistols' ecstatic rendition of "Anarchy in the U.K."--which may be one of the highlights of the summer--I hear a label dude yell into somebody's ear, "So, how's Sleeper doing in the U.S.?"

The punks meet teh godfathers
Six days later, a sudden steady rain has returned England to its normal gloom. It is Saturday, June 29, the day of the concert for the Prince's Trust, officially known as the tongue-twisting "MasterCard Presents the Masters of Rock Concert." The concert, which is being taped for HBO, features Jools Holland, Alanis Morissette, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, and "Pete Townsend and friends"--Roger Daltrey, John Entwistle, and the numerous actors, singers, and musicians needed for the performance of Quadrophenia in its entirety.

It is a huge media event coinciding with the rerelease of Quadrophenia on CD, but one can't help but suspect it is also a pre-rehearsal for the Broadway-ization of Quadrophenia a la the 1992 smash Tommy. Either that, or Quadrophenia on Ice: Inside the too-small enclosure that houses the concert grounds, it is freezing cold, and--even more unbearably--we are being inundated by MasterCard cant from 12 Jumbotron screens and a giant blimp.

Quadrophenia, alas, is a mess. When the Who performed Quadrophenia at the Cow Palace in San Francisco in 1974, Keith Moon passed out halfway through the show and was replaced on drums by a random member of the audience. Today, Moon is being replaced by Zack Starkey, whose greatest claim to fame is that he was Ringo Starr's strongest sperm one fateful night.

The staging, such as it is, is impossible to watch, and worst of all the size of the venue leaves sight and sound out of sync: Every character looks like a badly redubbed Japanese cartoon. Somehow, I had pictured this concert as being more like the films I had seen of the Rolling Stones' famous free Hyde Park concert in 1969, all verdant picnics and "butterflies are free." But this concert is the antithesis of that, speaking instead of money, advertising, and cross-promotion.

Ever feel like you have been cheated? I have, again and again--but never more than in the last 10 days in Europe. Looking out at the enclosure at Hyde Park, two football fields long, I am reminded of all the things the Pistols were fighting against in 1976: bloated concerts featuring bands like Queen, which headlined the last such event in Hyde Park in 1976; Led Zeppelin, whose lead members Page and Plant are seated a few rows down; and the Who. In those days, the Pistols and the Buzzcocks stood firmly against the glitz and pretension of what now seem like minor infractions: Page's double-necked guitar; eight-minute-long songs, silken trousers, fringed scarfs, and the occasional use of the London Philharmonic Orchestra to flesh out rock operas.

At the time, those things seemed worth destroying, but many of those things are still here today, and some of them are named Johnny Rotten. Compared to a Who concert held in a quarter-mile-long cattle pen, however, the Pistols reunion was downright honest; at least it was fun. In comparison to the Who's Hyde Park gig, the show in Finsbury Park with its moderate crowd of 25,000 was like freakin' CBGB's.

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