"What was most surprising about Johnny Rotten was the way you could
read his intelligence not only in his eyes but in the way he
used his body. He slumped like Quasimodo. He hung onto the mike
as if he were caught in a wind tunnel, about to blown off the
Greil Marcus (on the last Sex Pistols concert in 1978)
One might expect Pretty Vacant to be a Sex Pistols tribute band. One would be wrong.
Instead, Pretty Vacant are an exercise in punk re-enactment -- a re-creation of the Sex Pistols (circa 1976). From Johnny Rotten's angora sweater to Steve Jones's British flag cap, the dress is perfect (even if the performers don't show the physical signs of the speed addictions which helped run the original Pistols). As they run through the set list, it's evident that these guys know the routine - note by note covers of the Sex Pistols' greatest hits, even if the musicianship seems a bit better than the original band. It's even clear that these guys have studied extant videos and photos - the lead singer cocks his head to the side and hangs on to the mic stand as if he had memorized the words of Greil Marcus, as if he somehow wants to channel the spirit of Johnny Rotten. And - look - there's Nancy Spungen, standing in front of Sid, looking more like Chloe Webb from Sid and Nancy than the actual photos of that sad little junkie.
And it's amazingly funny (and fun) for those of us who weren't attending concerts back in 1977. But it's also an act that reminds one of Star Struck - somewhat talented musicians using a vague resemblance to someone famous in order to play in a band. Entertaining for a while, but clearly a one-note joke.
Still, that's not exactly the band I came to see. That band is 6X, and they were celebrating their album release. However, before 6X, there was another band - local girl rock trio (and solid performers) Catfight! - playing their last show with the original drummer. As one might expect, Catfight! (in honor of this occasion) stuck to a greatest hits format - playing songs from throughout their career. But there was nothing distinguished about the performance - nothing that matched the ironic intensity of Pretty Vacant. It was good, it was adequate, but it wasn't anything to say "wow" about.
Finally, after much waiting, the headliners 6X took the stage. Essentially, they're an Atlanta super group - excellent musicians playing bubble gum garage rock with loads of energy and with tongue firmly planted in cheek. And as usual, they delivered. Rob Gal (the guitarist) played his normal guitar hero riffs, slyly winking at the audience to show he didn't really take all of this seriously. Kevin Rej (the bassist) came out in one of his patented weird costumes (fake leopard print?) and proceeded to pound his instrument into oblivion. And Lara Kiang (guitarist and main vocalist) orchestrated the entire event - singing and bouncing and playing, showing so much joy at being onstage that any glitches are quickly overlooked.
It's fun, and it's furious and when it's over, it's much like the music they play - effervescent and unsubstantial. It's the type of performance that rocks your world when you see it, but you quickly forget about in lieu of something more exciting (or more appalling).
And in the end, the thing I remember about the show is not the solid performances of the headliners, or the excitement of the crowd. Rather I'm stuck thinking about that first band, and wishing I was at the Winterland in San Francisco on 14 January 1978, watching the original Sex Pistols play.