When the Sex Pistols reunited in 1996, they didn’t even try to pretend it was anything but a cash grab. “We still hate each other with a vengeance,” Johnny Rotten said at a press conference announcing the Filthy Lucre tour. “But we’ve found a common cause, and that’s your money . . . These are the people that wrote the songs, and now we’d like to be paid for it. Over the years every fucker has lived off us, and we haven’t seen penny one.”
The reunion marked a huge reversal for Johnny Rotten, since he’d previously said the death of Sid Vicious made any future band activity impossible. “What are we gonna do?” he’d ask the press. “Dig up Sid?” At the tour’s press conference he had a strikingly different take. “These are the original members,” he said. “Sid was nothing more than an empty coathanger to fill an empty spot onstage.”
That’s a pretty harsh way of explaining that Sid’s bass playing ability was, at best, rudimentary. They weren’t even able to use him on their sole studio album, Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols. Steve Jones was forced to pull double duty by playing all the guitar and bass parts on the LP. The band brought original bassist Glen Matlock back into the fold for the reunion tour. In addition to being a great bassist, Matlock co-wrote most of the band’s songs.
The tour may have been a blatant cash grab, but the band didn’t phone in the performances. Steve Jones, Paul Cook and Glenn Matlock had all become better musicians during the band’s 18-year hiatus, and the shows were absolutely explosive. They wisely didn’t attempt to write a single new song, relying solely on their small catalog of classics. They had just enough songs to fill out a proper show when you throw in their signature covers like “Substitute” by the Who, “No Fun” by the Stooges and “(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone” by the Monkees. (Check out their performance of “Bodies” from the Japanese leg of the tour.)
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The Sex Pistols reformed for other tours in 2002-’03 and 2007-’08, but in recent years Johnny Rotten has turned his attention to the reformed Public Image Ltd – though he says he hasn’t totally closed the door on future Sex Pistols activity. “I love singing them old songs, because they’re very poignant and a very pertinent part of history belongs to the Sex Pistols,” he told Rolling Stone in 2012. “If I write new songs, it’s PiL and that’s it. Occasionally, a reenactment is a fine thing. I love Civil War reenactments.”