37 Years Ago: The Sex Pistols’ First (And Last) U.S. Tour Falls Apart
“Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?” asked a weary Johnny Rotten at the conclusion of the Sex Pistols‘ first (and last) U.S. tour. The show took place at the one-time hippie haven of the Winterland in San Francisco on Jan. 14, 1978 and would be the band’s final performance — at least until their 1996 reunion. By then, however, Sid Vicious was long dead.
This much-hyped, sold-out swansong was actually simulcast over KSAN-FM radio. “I don’t believe this is really happening, folks,” one of the announcers admitted, as the Sex Pistols took the stage. It was in a haze of hype, and not much glory, that the Pistols made their way to America. Most of the media attention focused on tabloid fodder decrying the evils of “punk rock,” and how it would destroy children everywhere.
Manager Malcolm McLaren thought the best plan of attack was to avoid major markets like New York City and Los Angeles, and instead hit the deep South. The tour made stops in Atlanta, Memphis, San Antonio, Baton Rouge, Dallas and Tulsa. San Francisco was the only date on the tour that could have provided an audience tuned into the Sex Pistols. But this was McLaren’s plan, figuring he would get more media mileage out of putting the band in this somewhat surreal setting. This worked to a much lesser degree than he would have hoped, in the pre-internet world.
The evening kicked off with sets by two of San Francisco’s finest of the era — the Avengers and the Nuns — before the Sex Pistols took the stage. “Welcome to London!,” spat Johnny Rotten as the group launched into a suitably visceral ‘God Save The Queen.’
Throughout the show, Rotten was in fine form, looking equally amused and angry while delivering the goods. “If you can put up with that, you can put up with anything,” he said at one point, with bit of self-defacing humor. Steve Jones and Paul Cook held their own, but Sid Vicious simply floundered on the bass. (It was, after all, his second instrument of choice, just behind the syringe.) Though not a total disaster, the Sex Pistols failed to live up to the buzz that preceded them. They were figuratively at death’s door when the tour started, and San Francisco was the final nail in the coffin.
During the sole encore of the evening, a very loose version of the Stooges classic ‘No Fun,’ Rotten laid his feelings out, revamping the lyrics a bit. “This is no fun. No fun. This is no fun at all. No fun,” he sang, sounding like he meant every word. Later, in his autobiography ‘Rotten: No Irish, No Blacks, No Dog,’ Rotten wrote that he “felt cheated, and I wasn’t going on with it any longer. It was a ridiculous farce. The whole thing was a joke at that point.”
Rotten left the Sex Pistols before even returning to the U.K. In an attempt to distance himself from the punk scene, he later began going by his real name, John Lydon — ultimately resurfacing with the groundbreaking Public Image Limited.