The Sex Pistols Experience
Bristol, The Fleece
April 19th 2013
Love them or loath them tribute bands are big business. For Louder Than War Simon Barton takes a gander at one of the best.
Here’s a question for all you seasoned gig-goers out there: are tribute bands a good thing or a bad thing? Tribute bands are a uniquely modern phenomenon which come in all kinds of flavours, from the fat bloke in your local pub who thinks he’s Robbie Williams, to the large-scale bombast of professional Queen or Led Zeppelin impersonators. Some are happy just to sound exactly like the act in question, while some go the whole hog and also adopt the mannerisms and style of the artist. When someone is impersonating a relatively faceless band like Pink Floyd it’s not much of a stretch for the audience, but it can be painfully obvious that there’s only one Liam Gallagher when that guy with the shades and the fake Manc accent singing to 50 people on a Sunday evening just doesn’t convince.
The Sex Pistols Experience are one of those bands who replicate their chosen subjects down to the last detail – the sounds, the clothes, the poses, everything. And when the chances of seeing the originals get lesser and lesser they are as close as many people will get to seeing and hearing the sound of ’77. But is it enough… or is it just glorified karaoke…? Tonight at Bristol’s Fleece we may just find out.
First up are Stroud’s finest melodic Punk band, the mighty Chinese Burn. In recent years the Burn have become the go-to support band in this area, backing up the likes of the UK Subs, SLF, New Model Army, Hugh Cornwell and Penetration, amongst others. Led by the charismatic Ben Rigsby ( part Iggy, part Rotten, all energy and passion ) the band pack their short set with sharp, intelligent, tuneful Punk and – as always – go down a storm with the Fleece’s audience. From the singalong likes of Bullets and Defending Stalingrad, through the cheeky I Wonder Who’s F***ing Her Now, to a manic cover of Beat On The Brat, Chinese Burn are tight, bright, exciting and clearly having as much fun as the audience.
And then, here they are: Paul Crook, Steve Bones, Kid Vicious and Johnny Rotter – the Sex Pistols Experience. And this experience really has an uncanny resemblance to the snarling, spitting scoundrels of the late ’70s. See Johnny stare, see Kid sneer, see Steve pose for the ladies, see Paul, er, play the drums. The sound is absolutely spot on: every crunching guitar riff, every lashing solo, every thunderous drum fill is present and correct, and Kid’s bass-playing is easily better than anything Sid could have managed. Of course, the crowd go the wildest for the faithful interpretations of the classic singles but, if anything, the band excel at the lesser-known album tracks and B-sides. There’s a breakneck No Feelings, a grinding Submission and an arrogant No Lip – all played with a conviction and passion that lifts the “performance” out of the realms of karaoke and into that of just bloody great rock music. The only baggy moments in the set come during the necessarily more lightweight “Kid sings” section ( covers and Silly Thing from the original band’s last gasp ) and the noxious Belsen Was A Gas, which was a bad song back then and still is today. However, the military stomp of Holidays In The Sun and the crowd-pleasing, one-two knockout punch of God Save The Queen / Anarchy more than compensate.
But there’s more to this band than just the music. The focus, naturally, is on the two determinedly obnoxious frontmen. Kid Vicious is a brilliantly-observed parody of someone who was himself not much more than a cartoon character. Every pout and leer, every windmilling of the arm over the bass brings to mind that iconic character whose life ended in such a sad, squalid way. And he gets some of the best lines, too! Kid wastes no opportunity to abuse the audience and, as expected, reserves his largest quantities of bile for the recently-departed former Prime Monster, Maggie Thatcher. ( Of course, the Pistols were long gone before she came to power, but let’s not let that spoil the fun. ) The undisputed star of the show, though, is Johnny Rotter. His impersonation of former Punk – turned Country Life butter advocate – John Lydon is spookily accurate. It really is like watching some old video footage from the Anarchy Tour. Johnny’s voice perfectly captures the young Lydon’s bored, superior tones, while his stage presence veers from hunched, hollow-eyed staring at the audience to full on, just-been-released-from-a straitjacket mania. The sullen insolence of the banter with the audience is perfect, Rotter positively seething with venom after some idiot throws a pint of beer in his face. He may not be acting at this point…
So, the Sex Pistols Experience are a tribute band and, in fact, a damn good one. Are they just here to act as an outlet for Punks young and old on a Friday night? Nostalgia for the old ones, something to jump around to for the young ones? Maybe. When the real Sex Pistols originally reformed for the Filthy Lucre tour ( “Fat, forty and back!” ) they were angry and hungry, they had something to prove, to themselves and to the public. Which they did, magnificently. But when this reviewer last saw them, 6 years later at Crystal Palace, they were terrible. The playing was lazy, Lydon seemed to forget half the lyrics, they unaccountably covered Hawkwind’s Silver Machine and… they had a bubble-machine on stage. Punk Rock! If you’re looking for an authentic taste of anarchy, then, I would recommend you stick with the Sex Pistols Experience. On tonight’s evidence they are better at “being” the Sex Pistols than the real thing.