The social ironies of the Sex Pistols showing up in a Vegas casino for a concert were all confronted the last time the band played the Hard Rock, home of the Sid Vicious slot machine, a few years ago. Now, the Sex Pistols are another reunited oldies act: just more self-aware and ironic than, say, Duran Duran.
Of course, many still seemed surprised that the Pistols would pick Vegas for their one and only U.S. stop on their 2008 summer tour. But really, what place could be more perfect? At one point a block of the sold-out audience was crushed back by security so a local power couple — MMA fighter Tito Ortiz and adult-film legend Jenna Jameson — could cut in front and have a private elevator ride to their exclusive seats without mixing with the plebes who bought tickets. Why wouldn’t these Vegas characters, the ultimate embodiments of the crass commercialization of violence and sex that the Pistols predicted in 1977, deserve special treatment in a city that worships the shallow and famous? As Johnny Rotten’s first words declared upon taking the stage, there was fellowship between the band and audience: “You know who we are, hello, Las Vain-gas.”
With that, the Pistols launched into a part lounge, part ska take on “Pretty Vacant” before delivering the familiar attack. During their various reunions the Pistols have proven that they can deliver a taut and in-your-face rock concert. The band still does blowing through a set made up of their infamous disc, assorted singles and covers including the odd choice like Hawkwind’s “Silver Machine.”
Johnny Rotten, however, seemed more John Lydon this night. The fierce growl delivered on his Pistols recordings has been replaced by the higher, whinier blast he brought to Public Image, Ltd. Still, songs like “Seventeen,” “Bodies,” “Holiday in the Sun” and “Anarchy in the U.K.” have held up far better than any of the social causes that inspired those tunes in the first place.