The Sex Pistols’ career, albeit brief, is one of the most remembered and influential in the history of rock. The British band helmed by the outrageous Johnny Rotten (John Lydon) formed its initial lineup in 1975 as a quartet with drummer Paul Cook, guitarist Steve Jones and bassist Glen Matlock, who’d later be replaced by the infamous Sid Vicious in 1977 for the band’s last leg. In October of that year, they released what would be their only studio album ever, Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols. Shortly after, and having already done plenty of damage in their native U.K., the band embarked on their first and last U.S. tour. Rather than hit traditional tour stops like New York City and Los Angeles, the Sex Pistols, who probably didn’t have much of an opinion on the schedule anyways, made their way to Atlanta, Memphis, Baton Rouge, Dallas, Tulsa and, finally, San Francisco in a scheme concocted by their manager Malcolm McLaren.
That brings us to the San Francisco show, which happened at the storied Winterland on this day (Jan. 14) in 1978 and would ultimately become the band’s last stand, save for some reunion shows that occurred two decades later. This show, which you can watch in its entirety below, is the antic, unhinged spectacle marking the end of an influential band’s three-year career. They begin the show with their controversial single “God Save The Queen” and proceed to play fellow hits “Holidays In The Sun” and “Anarchy in the UK.” Following the show, Johnny Rotten quit the band, and news of their split surfaced a few days later.
The U.S. tour was a mess for many reasons, but the most memorable is probably Vicious’ musical inabilities, brought on not only by a lack of skill but also his heroine addiction. He would later, in 1979, be charged with the murder of his girlfriend Nancy Spungen and die of an overdose, but during this tour he was just all over the place, thrashing around with his bass but never really mastering it. But no one was going to a Sex Pistols show for the musical finesse anyways—they were there for the energy, the frenzy. Here’s how Wolfgangs puts it:
Evaluating this Sex Pistols’ performance in terms of music is a relatively pointless exercise, as the band had no desire to please the audience in terms of music, nor could they even play well in any traditional sense. The performance, devoid of pacing, range, tempo, or melody, is instead an onslaught of rage, rebellion, and release, which is relentlessly ragged throughout the set. Despite this, and the fact that Sid Vicious’ bass was little more than a prop, the group seethes with an undeniable raw energy and raises contempt for an audience to a new, almost artistic level. Between songs, Johnny Rotten keeps a running commentary on exactly what the group is doing, antagonizing and provoking the audience all along the way. Shouts of “fuck you” and projectiles being hurled at the stage are taken as encouragement, confirming the purpose of this performance. The group expresses total contempt for their audience and demand the same in return.
Again, you can watch the Sex Pistols’ San Francisco show—their last ever with this lineup—below via the Paste vault.