There was a touch of the Willy Wonka when the announcement was made on Monday — members of two beloved English first-wave punk bands, Sex Pistols and Generation X, would be joining forces as Generation Sex for a free gig at the Roxy the following evening. The men in question were Billy Idol and Tony James of Gen X and Steve Jones and Paul Cook of the Pistols, and this was clearly going to be one of those “gotta be there” gigs that this city throws up on occasion.
It was a free show, too (hence the Roald Dahl vibe) — tickets dished out to the public via an online lottery system, the lucky few being informed at 10 a.m. on the day of the show. And yeah, lots of people were left disappointed, but still, that’s a hell of a gift from these well-worn punk vets. The feeling was one of old friends catching up and throwing something together for that age-old reason — it’d be fun. And it was.
It was far from perfect; Jonesy seemed to be having a good time wading through old Gen X riffs and licks but admitted that “Kiss Me Deadly” was “like ‘Carry on Wayward Son,’” though he needn’t have worried. Any flaws seemed perfectly appropriate for this public buddy-jam. That said, how the hell did Billy Idol get jumbled while singing “Dancing With Myself”? The guy must have performed that song 10,000 times. Oh well — it all added to the raw charm.
The set list was simply superb — Gen X’s classic “Ready Steady Go” set the tone and warmed the geezas up, and that led into “Dancing With Myself,” before the first Pistols tune of the night. It wasn’t an obvious choice, either, but it was fun to hear Idol chant his way through “The Great Rock ’N’ Roll Swindle,” from the soundtrack to the movie of the same name. That song was originally sung by Edward Tudor Pole and, notably, none of the Pistols songs performed at this gig had anything to do with Johnny Rotten/Lydon (who performs locally with his Public Image Ltd this weekend). There were no songs from Nevermind the Bollocks at all.
Rather we got “Black Leather” (technically recorded by Jones and Cook after the Pistols split but before The Professionals formed), “No One Is Innocent” (originally sung by train robber Ronnie Biggs), “Lonely Boy” (originally sung by Jones), “Silly Thing” (originally sung by Cook) and the cover of Sinatra’s “My Way” to finish (famously snarled by Sid Vicious).
All of which means that Idol was taking the place of five different Pistols vocalists (none of which was the main one), as well as singing his own tunes. And for the most part, the man with the perennially curled lip did a fantastic job. “Silly Thing” in particular was a highlight. But it was tough to top Gen X gems like “Wild Youth” and “King Rocker.”
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This felt less like a regular concert and more like an event. A party. It was wonderful to see Idol and James performing these songs together onstage. Similarly, opportunities to see Jones and Cook play songs from The Great Rock ’N’ Roll Swindle are rare, and nobody seemed disappointed that they didn’t get to pogo to “Anarchy in the U.K.,” “God Save the Queen,” “Pretty Vacant,” etc. That all of the above was mashed together into a superb midweek punk rock soup still causes goosebumps the morning after.
Earlier, local band Cherry Glazerr did an admirable job of entertaining a crowd that, honestly, was only there to see the main attraction. It was an unenviable task — trying to get the attention of people who don’t want their attention gotten. But Clementine Creevy’s band stood up, smiled throughout and, by the end, earned noisy applause and most likely a few new fans.