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Rule Britannia! New DVDs from The Who and Sex Pistols

Sex Pistols: There’ll Always Be An England (Rhino)
The new Sex Pistols concert DVD, There’ll Always Be An England, was shot over a few nights last year at the Brixton Academy in London, and suddenly it’s the Pistols who are the aging rockers trying desperately to seem relevant. (The Who, sans, Moon and Entwistle, still tour; in fact they’re in the U.S. right now playing typically overpriced gigs in arenas.) Julian Temple, who first shot the Pistols in 1976, and who directed The Great Rock ’N’ Roll Swindle in 1980 and The Filth and the Fury in 2000, both featuring the lads, is once again at the helm, and he does a bang-up job of capturing…well, the filth and the fury of the latter-day Pistols. John Lydon (nee Rotten) is 51 and pudgy now; bandmates Mick Jones (guitar), Paul Cook (drums) and Glenn Matlock (bass) look their ages as well. But they have no trouble at all playing the old tunes with power and passion; of course, they are some of the simplest rock tunes ever, which was part of the point when they made their lone album, Never Mind the Bollocks, back in 1977. This is really John’s show: His delivery and attitude carries every song, and in many ways he seems unchanged: He’s still our genial, f- and c-word-spouting emcee and cheerleader, but if anything now he’s a little less bored-looking and more committed to the songs. He actually seems to be enjoying himself.

The audience is really half the show on this DVD, and it’s clearly this sea of miscreants—mostly young and old punks and skinheads, each one uglier than the next—that gives Lydon and the group the energy to really deliver these 30-year-old songs with the gusto they need to batter the crowd into submission. Throughout, director Temple shows pogo-ing and moshing fans singing along at the top of their lungs to every word the Pistols sing, and Lydon is savvy enough to let them carry the ball at times, laying back while the throng shouts out “and we don’t care!” on “Pretty Vacant,” and at other obvious participation points. The show runs a little over an hour and hits all the expected highlights, from “EMI” and “No Feelings” to their undeniable masterpieces—“Anarchy in the UK” and “God Save the Queen.” That last tune hit me in an interesting way. It’s great seeing everyone triumphantly shouting out the famous aside—“We mean it, man!”—but I felt a little wistful when it got to the concluding sing-along chorus: “No fuuuu-ture, no fuuuu-ture, no fuuuu-ture… for you.” I wondered about some of the tough, middle-aged working-class types we see in the crowd that night singing along as they might have three decades earlier, when the Pistols’ dark cynicism also perhaps gave them a spark of hope because this was their band and they f’n rocked. Had the Pistols been right? Was there “no future” for them “in England’s dreaming”? Well, hopefully they at least had a blissful hour blowing off some steam with their heroes.

Also worth noting about this DVD is the documentary extras, which have the Pistols showing us different parts of “their” London, telling colorful stories about their pasts along the way. I particularly loved Lydon’s story about growing up in the shadow of the great London soccer team Arsenal’s stadium. All of sudden it’s easy to imagine little Johnny, the regular kid, living his normal life, years away from becoming a reluctant punk rock superstar. But I bet he sneered a lot then, too.

You’ll find me in the “No Gobbing” zone at [email protected]

Click here to read Blair’s review of The Who at Killburn: 1977.