Pistols packing promises... I'm not ashamed to admit that I've always thought that the Clash were heaps more authentic than the Sex Pistols. For proof, simply compare debuts: The Clash holds up way better than Never Mind the Bollocks Here's the Sex Pistols, a disc that seems destined to sound less and less immediate and more and more amusing with time. Sure, the Pistols came first, and yes, the Clash couldn't wait to betray their punk roots, a horrid act that left us with London Calling, arguably one of rock's finest moments. But who's to say the Sex Pistols wouldn't have ditched punk had they lasted more than a few years? Who's to say they wouldn't have recorded their own London Calling? (Though somehow I doubt it.)
In the end, though, such theorizing is pointless. Unlike the Clash, the Sex Pistols never appeared to have any measurable control over their own destiny; in fact, being out of control made them that much more interesting. The Pistols weren't a band so much as great theater hyped to the fullest by a savvy entrepreneur. It's common historical knowledge that the Sex Pistols' beginnings were about as organic and improvised as those of, say, Kiss. So really, it couldn't be more fitting that the two acts are sharing a fast lane -- and maybe an opening band or two -- on the summer touring circuit. Let's face it, if you want an honest-to-badness punk aesthetic, a truer model was Iggy and the Stooges.
For better or for worse, though, the Sex Pistols, with their crude, anger-fueled antics, destructive lifestyles and anti-fashion fashion sense, were the ones who defined punk for the world. They were political; they were outspoken; they (especially the late Sid Vicious) were walking, talking open sores. But again, no matter how garish the Sex Pistols' displays of incorrigibility, their fate was in the hands of their creator. No, not God -- Malcolm McLaren, the owner of an ultra-trendy London clothes boutique who dreamed up the idea of a rock group that would spit in the face of everything considered acceptable. After trying his hand at managing the New York Dolls, and watching that band fall apart, McLaren turned to Glen Matlock, a kid who worked at his store. Matlock, the Pistols' pre-Vicious bassist, was already playing with drummer Paul Cook and guitarist Steve Jones when McLaren approached him with his punk notion. Lead vocalist John Lydon (a.k.a. Johnny Rotten) was just a smelly little bastard they'd seen hanging around the jukebox at the boutique. He'd never sung a note in tune in his life. McLaren took the Sex Pistols name from a T-shirt at his store, and, in 1975, a band was born (or made, depending on how you look at it).
It didn't take long for McLaren's bratty brainchild to backfire. With a little help from the authorities, who obligingly banned "God Save the Queen," the anarchy routine sold well in England. But the group couldn't keep a label, and drugs, persistent touring woes and McLaren's sensationalist ways all conspired to sink the Pistols in their own bullshit. In 1978, the band was dismantled in public by Lydon, who announced its demise at a show in San Francisco. In their wake, they left one historic debut, one movie and soundtrack (The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle) and one dead bass player.
If you think about it, the calculation behind "Pistols Reunion '96" -- arriving at Houston's International Ballroom Saturday -- isn't all that different from the band's late '70s strategy. Except that now the Sex Pistols are out to make money, not trouble (well, maybe a little of that, too), and they don't need some clothes-hawking Svengali to help them do it. This time, they can be their own worst enemy.
And what about the show? Preliminary reports indicate that live versions of decaying Pistols chestnuts such as "Anarchy in the U.K." and "Bodies" are surprisingly good, well-executed fun, despite being yanked out of their late '70s context. Matlock's back in the band, and unlike Vicious, he can actually play bass. Plan on hearing just about everything in the Sex Pistols' catalog (which isn't much), plan on Rotten mugging and mouthing off between songs and plan on the Ballroom's poor acoustics turning the music to mud. It'll be just like the old days, crummy sound and all.
A sad note... Guitarist Jay Distefano, 22, died early July 21 in a diving accident at Lake Conroe. Distefano was a member of the local thrash metal band HOSS at the time of his death. Before that, he played with Wishbone Bush. A memorial fund has been set up in his name to benefit the University of Houston arts program. (Aside from being a musician, Distefano, a UH graduate, was also a talented illustrator.) Send donations to: Texas Commerce Bank, Jay Allen Distefano Memorial, 2611 West Lake Houston Parkway, Kingwood, TX 77339, addressed to the attention of Diann Petersen (account number 16800011213).
Etc.... The ink still relatively fresh on her contract with Atlanta-based Autonomous Records, Lubbock native Beth Wood will open for Ray Wylie Hubbard Friday at McGonigel's Mucky Duck. On Wood Work, her just-released debut, the singer/songwriter brings to mind the exacting vocal quirks of Shawn Colvin and the flower-child preciousness of Edie Brickell. Are they done or aren't they? Ever the opportunists, Banana Blender Surprise magically reappears (again) for a show Saturday at the Fabulous Satellite Lounge. Wednesday, Poi Dog Pondering plays Fitzgerald's, happily peddling its new release, Electrique Plummagram, a pallid collection of dance remixes (???!!!) of old material from the lamentable Pomegranate CD. Take my advice and run away -- far away. Do it fast enough, and you should make it to The Woodlands in plenty of time for Wednesday night, when Ted Nugent manhandles Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion with Bad Company.
-- Hobart Rowland
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