The Sex Pistols‘ 1978 U.S. tour was a complete fiasco. Bassist Sid Vicious was hopelessly addicted to heroin, and Johnny Rotten was barely speaking with his bandmates. The group had never been to America, but they’d been in the press for the better part of a year and could have easily played relatively large venues in big cities. Instead, Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren booked them at redneck bars across the Deep South and made sure an army of journalists chronicled the 12-day odyssey in great detail. He figured the inevitable chaos would further bolster the legend of the Sex Pistols.
Needless to say, the residents of cities like Baton Rouge and San Antonio didn’t think much of the Sex Pistols, especially when Vicious called one crowd a “bunch of faggots.” The brief tour wrapped up January 14th at San Francisco’s Winterland Ballroom. It was the biggest venue of the entire tour, without any close second. The crowd was mainly hippies, curious to see what all the fuss was about.
“In America, what fucked it up was that they treated us like rock stars,” Sex Pistols guitarist Steve Jones said in Jon Savage’s book England’s Dreaming. “They didn’t know any different. They treat anyone who comes over the same way. At Winterland, I had a cold. Sid wasn’t playing a note, and he wasn’t even plugged in half the time. Me and Paul just wanted to play. I kept cutting out, strings breaking left, right and center.”
The sound was absolutely atrocious, and Johnny Rotten’s voice started to give out. The band closed with a cover of the Stooges’ “No Fun,” and near the end Rotten melts down. “There’s no fun in being alone,” he says. “This is no fun. It is no fun at all.” When the song ends he famously asks the crowd, “Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?” He then drops the microphone and walks offstage. It was the last time the Sex Pistols would perform together until their reunion tour in 1996.