Shoo-it Oop Fattay

For those of us who saw the Sex Pistols way back when—back in the day; the 20th century; ye olden times—news of a world-class tribute band means little. Hey, we saw the Pistols in San Francisco, man. We were there. Nothing can change that.

I'm talking, of course, of the Filthy Lucre Tour in 1996. This was the first time the band had played the Bay since auto-destructing at the Winterland in early '78, the same night Johnny Rotten famously asked the audience if they'd ever gotten the feeling they'd been cheated. Eighteen years later, not a single person in the audience looked cheated. My fellow concertgoers—all 10,000 to 15,000 of them—reminded me of the crowd at a recent “Weird Al” Yankovic show, a wide assortment of pale nebbishes eagerly awaiting show time. One row below me, a young man had come to the concert in a homemade anti-taxation shirt and could be heard taunting an elderly hippie couple not far away in a high, mincing voice: “Oh, did your mommy and daddy bring you here?” When the Sex Pistols emerged—older, wider, with Glen Matlock filling in for the shambling corpse of Sid Vicious—and tore into the opening salvo of “Bodies,” the violent applause verged on messianic.

After the band finished their set, they dawdled offstage, in no hurry to leave the spotlight and descend back into the lives of middle-aged men. A Person of Substance in the front row must have caught Lydon's eye; Johnny slowed to a halt, pointed stiffly into the audience and barked into his wireless mic, “Shut up, fatty.” To be accurate, the declaration should read, “Shoo-it oop fattay.” The sentence was not built for an American mouth. The few times I've correctly imitated Lydon's pronunciation, I've been made the life of the party. Could the original Pistols gig at the Winterland have possibly offered any moments as sublime? Will the Sex Pistols Experience? Will fatties be shushed or neglected? I fear that none of the confused upstarts of 1996 will be in the house.

It is not this writer's place to state that TSPE—a comedy troupe of conspicuously well-nourished British men claiming to be “the greatest tribute band around”—is hands down the saddest, most miserable cultural event of this young century. You will need to draw your own conclusions. The facts stand: the Sex Pistols Experience is a reality, like heart disease or the war in Iraq. The time for debate has passed. The “band” will be playing Anaheim this Wednesday on their first American tour.

This particular homage has far less in common with the typical tribute band than might be apparent. For one thing, its members are both anonymous—operating as “Johnny Forgotten,” “Kid Vicious,” etc. (it's too psychically painful for me to list all the pseudonyms)—and interchangeable. Their website seeks understudies for each position in the franchise, Blue Man Group-style. The shtick itself seems closer to Renaissance festival than Beatlemania. The site boasts, “All the spit N venom of the heady days of the '77 period, blended with a look and ability of the seasoned musicians of the re-formed band of the '96 N 2003 tours.” Will the band, like cast members in Colonial Williamsburg, be allowed to break character in case of emergency?

Actually, it is somewhat impressive that someone has figured out a way to dumb down the raw material. TSPE's merchandise woman, for example, goes by “Nancy Spunked On.” The only original cast member to have given the SP Experience his imprimatur is Matlock, perhaps-not-so-coincidentally the only Pistol not re-created onstage. The Experience maintain that they do not seek approval, although “we do hope they'd be flattered that we've gone to so much trouble to help promote they're [sic] music!?” This seems a misdirected hope. Johnny Rotten had only Laurence Olivier's performance as Richard III to guide his stage persona. Whoever will be playing “Johnny Forgotten” has to ape Rotten. The best TSPE can hope for, their maximum achievement, will be to successfully mimic an average Sex Pistols concert from 1975-1978.

Okay, that's not true. The very best they can hope to achieve is to provide a solid night's entertainment, to make anyone willing to invest $11 to $13 able to forget about their humdrum, workaday, ass-to-mouth existence for an hour or so. There is no shame in that. And at the very least, this tribute band will be keeping four subpar British men off the dole and out of trouble for weeks at a time. There's no shame in that either.


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