Throughout the history of music, there has been one thing that has always been constant. That thing is change. The members of the Sex Pistols must be more aware of this than most, and are perhaps a better example of this than anyone else in the music industry. Back in the late ‘70’s they were considered the most dangerous band in the UK, if not the world. Then, just last year John Lydon’s appearance on reality TV show ‘I’m a Celebrity Get Me out of Here!’ showed that nowadays the red-haired frontman has become more subdued, trading microphones for cups of tea. Back in the late ‘70’s they were considered one of the “must-see” bands, renowned for their wild, unpredictable shows. Then, just earlier this month they played a reunion show at the Brixton Academy in their native country’s capital. It didn’t sell out, and if rumours are to be believed, then spare tickets failed to sell on eBay for as little as £1(about $1.20). Oh, how times change.
This live CD was recorded in 1976, on September 24th – three months before they would sign to EMI and consequently become huge. Despite being on the verge of signing to a major, the crowd at the 76 Club for this live recording is noticeably tiny. The applause as they take to the stage before best known song ‘Anarchy in the UK’
is bordering on non-existent. Straight away it is evident that the clarity of the album is going to be a major flaw. Overall the sound is overly fuzzy and if the song weren’t so well known it would most likely be an unrecognisable mess. It is performed fairly well, if a little uninspired. Unfortunately, after that the album goes downhill. Songs that you would expect to be full of energy live, such as a late appearance of ‘Pretty Vacant’
, limp along feebly. The backing vocals sound particularly weak, and instead of driving the chorus forward they hold it back from being anything more than awful.
As many bands on local, underground circuits (as Sex Pistols were at this point in time) they play several cover songs in order to boost their setlist length. Up first is a lukewarm, mid-tempo cover of the Monkees’ ‘(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone’
. As with most of the album the vocals are horrible. As is all too often expected in punk from this period of history, they are off-key and sound more like a karaoke session than someone performing at a gig. The other band covered here, are fellow Brits The Who, and the song is ‘Substitute’
. It too suffers from poor vocals, as well as oversimplified instrumentation and poor recording. It is always a bad sign when a band manages to butcher two good songs, but on the night that this was recorded, that is exactly what the Sex Pistols did.
When most bands are so close to being signed they usually play with loads of energy, and usually end up playing fantastic sets – the rawness and intimacy of smaller shows is kept, and a new found professionalism is found. However, here it is arguable that the Sex Pistols have neither. They rarely address their audience, and the audience in turn don’t sound very involved. The best example of this comes at the end of a tired sounding ‘No Feelings’
where Lydon speaks to the crowd for what feels like the only time on the album. After he says “What a wonderful set!”, it is hilarious when you can faintly hear one punter casually deriding them, unimpressedly claiming that “They must have played three chords during that!” And you know what, he is right. Punk bands are often put down by people for having very little talent, and in most cases this is a harsh judgement, and an unfair, negative stereotype. However, with the Sex Pistols, this is most certainly the case. Their lack of musicianship means that even though the album is bad enough because of the quality of the music, the show itself, and the recording; it is made even worse by the fact that all the songs sound pretty much the same.
Back in the late ‘70’s the Sex Pistols were a force to be reckoned with or at least a force powerful enough to be afraid of. Well I’m afraid to say that a lot of this may just have been down to hype. Although this album sees them perform just before their prime, before they would have written more songs and gotten better live, they are incredibly weak and tepid here. Aside from the live show sounding poor and feeble, the songs themselves don’t sound all that great either. If the music business was solely based on the music, then Sex Pistols would most likely have been nothing, merely an unfortunate skid mark on the underpants of the music industry. Instead, largely what made them big was the shock tactics of their snotty punk, snotty look and fiery live presence. None of that is found here, and this live album is best left alone, even by those who consider themselves to be huge fans. This set me back just a quid, and to be quite honest – I want my money back.