An absurd spectacle of projectile beer cans, blasphemy and unbridled rage, the Sex Pistols' Jan. 8, 1978, performance at Randy's Rodeo became Texas punk's big-bang moment. It also may stand as the most infamous rock show in San Antonio history.
Fronted by provocateur Johnny Rotten and abetted by casualty Sid Vicious, the British band were the Beatles of punk rock: a galvanizing game-changer that inspired a legion of imitators. Thanks to a perfect storm of propulsive rock, nihilist fashion, youthful rage and media manipulation, the band's brief visit to the U.S. unleashed a punk underground here.
And, for many, the band's San Antonio gig — one of just eight on that sole U.S. tour — remains its most legendary.
"The show changed my life, literally," said Austin-based photographer Ken Hoge in a 2003 Austin Chronicle story on the performance. "My musical tastes and attitude about performance art were never the same. I do not think they would have mattered at all, though, if the music had not been so real or if Johnny Rotten had not been such an amazingly gross performer or if Sid Vicious had not been such a suicidal maniac. It was an impossible combination that somehow clicked, like winning the cultural lottery."
In honor of the show's 45th anniversary, San Antonio label Saustex Records and South Texas pop-culture museum TexPop San Antonio are presenting "The Filth and The Flautas (Redux)" at Paper Tiger on Saturday, Jan. 7.
The all-day event will feature a film screening, an oral history project, a panel discussion and photo exhibition including unreleased shots from the show. Capping off the night will be a seven-band concert featuring cowpunk band Hickoids playing an approximation of the Pistols' original setlist and garage punk revivalists Sons of Hercules, whose singer Frank Pugliese, performed at the original show.
Decades later, the Pistols' chaotic Alamo City show remains a pivotal moment in Texas culture. While confounding to mainstream music fans and the local media, it unleashed a raw and fervent rock underground that continues through this day.
"The Sex Pistols left no unfinished business," the late music journalist and historian Margaret Moser wrote in the aforementioned 2003 piece. "Those of us in attendance were handed marching orders, effective Jan. 9, 1978, to rage against mediocrity. It was a lesson not always followed, but never forgotten."
Anarchy in the UK
By the mid-1970s, the record industry had largely squeezed rebellion out of rock culture. Labels prioritized manicured soft-rock acts such as the Eagles, who looked the part of counterculture heroes but whose music dealt in inoffensive mediocrity. Cut-and-paste disco and pompous prog rock also soaked the airwaves.
Into this stale atmosphere arrived punk rock, which revived the rancorous spirit of '50s rock by playing loud, fast and in a manner fit to piss off the old guard. While pioneering U.S. punk acts, from the Ramones to Television, had made inroads with critics, it was the UK variety, led by the Sex Pistols, that ultimately lit the flame stateside.
"American punk had already almost failed by the time the Pistols came," said Hickoids frontman Jeff Smith, who also heads Filth and Flautas organizer Saustex. "The important difference between UK and U.S. punk was that there was a legitimate political pretext for UK punk."
That political element, fueled by Britain's late-'70s economic despair, gave the music an added intensity.
"The UK economy was in shambles, the kids were unemployed and had no future," Smith added. "So, rather than being the sideshow of the Ramones — the animal act, if you will — or the romanticized urban decay and dense urban poetry of Patti Smith, it was very in your face, and for a reason. The Ramones looked like a bunch of glue sniffers, but the Sex Pistols actually had a threatening appearance. Their name implied both sex and violence. And the music had a legitimate element of violence as well."
That threat of violence, combined with the band's headline-grabbing provocation and its now-legendary album Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols, sparked a media frenzy.
The chaos culminated in the band's 1978 U.S. tour, engineered by its manager, Malcolm McLaren. The trek consisted of a mere eight dates in unusual locations, mostly across the South — a locale designed to stir up maximum controversy and conflict.
McLaren picked Randy's Rodeo in a bid to provoke a clash between punks and cowboys — and there were few more adept at provocation than the Pistols' manager. It was McLaren, who first spied Johnny Rotten, then John Lydon, wearing an "I HATE PINK FLOYD" T-shirt in Sex — the London boutique he ran with his partner Vivienne Westwood — and put him at the helm of the Sex Pistols.
Leading up to the show at Randy's, a media frenzy swirled around the band. Both of the city's daily newspapers, the Light and the Express-News, devoted breathless coverage to the upcoming concert.
"With the Pistols, you had a very salacious package, and the two daily newspapers were all over it," Smith said. "The reporting was different back then — 'If it bleeds, it leads.' The coverage they got in San Antonio is unbelievable. Maybe today, if Kanye West died or murdered somebody, he'd be on the front page. But they were on the front page several times leading up to the show."
The media firestorm made the show a can't-miss event. It quickly sold out. Among the 2,200 people in attendance were iconic Rolling Stone photographer Annie Leibovitz and future Americana superstar Steve Earle. "It was awful," Earle later said.
Music promoter and one-time owner of San Antonio's Texas Trash rock 'n' roll boutique Dee Dee Williams was also there.
"There was hardly anybody in San Antonio at the time that was into punk rock," she said. "I was 14 years old when I went to the Pistols show. My dad dropped me off. I went by myself! But I have a lot of balls."
Provocative pick of venues
Cavernous dance hall Randy's Rodeo, now a bingo parlor, has seen its share of musical greats over the years, eventually hosting Rush, the Ramones, Selena, Slipknot and U2, among others. It even briefly morphed into Whiskey River, a bar owned by country legend Johnny Bush.
But at the time, it was a head-scratching venue choice.
"As the day got closer, people heard about what was happening in New Orleans, what was happening in Memphis," said Joe Pugliese, who helped promote the San Antonio show for Stone City Attractions. "And we got concerned for security because there were a lot of cowboys that came, and they caused the trouble and heckled the band."
Pugliese's brother Frank — now the frontman for the Sons of Hercules — was in the Vamps, one of the opening acts for the Sex Pistols show. A performer known for channeling the outrageous antics of the New York Dolls and the Stooges, he performed with a string of hot dogs around his waist which he flung into the crowd.
Ultra, led by Galen Niles, a guitar hero from 1960s San Antonio garage bands the Outcasts and Homer, also appeared on the bill. Unlike Puglise, Niles felt no connection to the nascent punk movement.
"We thought, 'This is a bunch of bullshit,'" he said.
After being kept away from the Pistols by bodyguards and rushed onstage without a sound check, Ultra began performing with Niles playing his pricy Hamer guitar — the first one in Texas.
"We're up there playing our brand of take-no-prisoners hard rock, and this little guy with a fake army helmet and a safety pin in his nose takes a mouthful of beer, jumps up on the stage, and sprays it all over my new guitar," Niles said. "One of our equipment guys was a part-time linebacker for the San Antonio Toros, the football team. He got that guy and, well, the safety pin in his nose might've been fake, but the blood coming out of it — that was real."
By the time the Pistols hit the stage, the crowd was primed. The opening chords unleashed a blizzard of beer cans and spit, and the band fired back with blasts of scorching guitar and pounding drums. A shirtless, sneering Sid Vicious stared down the audience, and Johnny Rotten, dressed in an obnoxious red plaid suit, relentlessly talked shit between songs.
"They were half rock 'n' roll messiahs, half sideshow freaks," remembered Jesse Sublett of Texas punk band the Violators told the Austin Chronicle. "The storm of beer, spit and other debris raining down was the punk baptism of Texas."
Watching from just offstage, Niles was in shock.
"Johnny Rotten had the yellowest teeth I've ever seen," he said. "The crowd went from throwing empty beer cans to smashing them down and throwing these one-inch frisbees at the Pistols. Like kung fu stars!"
When one of the missiles hit Vicious particularly hard, he swung his bass, landing a solid blow on Brian Faltin, an audience member who'd repeatedly flipped him off. With that physical contact, the gig became rock 'n' roll legend. Accounts range from that single incident of violence to the whole show devolving into a riot and mass chaos.
"Sid went ballistic, mowing his bass recklessly through the audience like a scythe," journalist Moser wrote in her Austin Chronicle piece.
Longtime Austin writer and eventual LA Weekly music editor Bill Bentley concurred. He was covering the show for seminal alt-newspaper the Austin Sun.
"It was at this point that rock 'n' murder barely got missed, and I'll never forget how close it all came," he wrote in 2003. "Johnny Rotten started screaming at the band's attackers: 'All you cowboys are faggots.' Of course, there really weren't any cowboys at Randy's that night. If Rotten had said, 'All you Mexicans are faggots,' I have no doubt he would have been killed."
Texas Trash's Williams remembers things differently.
"It wasn't complete mayhem. Well, it kind of was when Sid hit that guy with the bass," she said. "I don't think he actually hit him that hard though. I was standing close and ... I don't remember blood spurting. It wasn't a riot. [Both the audience and the band] wanted it to be."
Punk rock aftermath
The crowd dispersed slowly after the show ended. The Austin Sun's Bentley saw a 16-year old carving a swastika onto the forehead of a photo of Ray Price hanging by the front door.
Niles commiserated with a cop.
"This San Antonio deputy sheriff came to me. I said, 'I can't believe this bullshit.' And he said, 'I can't either. You see that guy over there?' He pointed at a punk guy. 'I'm gonna harass that motherfucker,'" the guitarist recalled.
Even though the fan had committed no offense, the deputy jerked him out of the crowd and hurled him against a wall, Niles said. The promised harassment commenced.
Williams got a chance to rub shoulders with the band.
"[Guitarist] Steve Jones came up after the show and said, 'Oi, you,'" she said. "I walked with him out the back door, met Sid out there. He walked up and said, 'You want a fag?' And I said, 'What? I'm not gay. I'm a girl.' And he said, 'No, no, a fag is a cigarette. You want a cigarette?'"
Williams was getting on the Pistols' bus when her dad pulled up.
"He's honking the horn as loud as he could, yelling, 'Come on, get in the goddamn car! It's one in the morning! You can talk to these limeys some other time!' It was horrid. I almost started crying. But it's funny as shit now."
Despite the chaos the show left in its wake, Joe Pugliese said it raised San Antonio's profile as a music city.
"San Antonio was the heavy metal capital of the U.S., but because of this show, folks said, 'Oh yeah, other types of music go over here too,'" he said. "Before that, no interesting artists played here. That changed after that show."
Indeed, Pugliese even credits the show for lighting a creative fire that helped spark punk scenes outside of San Antonio.
"It changed everybody heads, that's true," he said. "All those people who came to the show from Austin, they all started a band."
For Filth and Flautas organizer Smith, whose junior-high punk band the Dwarves played mostly Sex Pistols covers, the Randy's show is more than history — it's personal.
"Johnny Rotten was my absolute idol when I was 13, 14 years old," he said. "My brother and I had been reading about the Sex Pistols for two years in Melody Maker and New Music Express, hanging out in the Record Hole at North Star Mall — what have they done this week? When they announced the tour, it was like I found a gold mine. I was that ecstatic."
Smith bought $3.50 tickets for himself and his brother. However, his brother shined him and took a girl he'd been dating instead.
Unpacking the gig
For the Filth and the Flautas, Smith is teaming up with TexPop — originally founded by show attendee Moser and Michael Ann Coker — which is known for its ambitious work bringing local music history to life. UTSA library scientist Steph Noell will be on hand to speak to people who attended the Randy's show for an oral history project that will be available both for future researchers and presented in an upcoming zine.
Filmmaker Jim Mendiola will screen his 1996 film Pretty Vacant, a San Antonio-centric reimagining of the events leading up to the show. A photo exhibition featuring unpublished photos from Hoge, Lindell "Tiger" Tate and Danny Grace is also scheduled.
Lee College professor and punk historian and archivist David Ensminger will moderate a panel discussion featuring Jack Orbin, owner of Stone City Attractions, which presented the original show, along with attendees of the Pistols' San Antonio and Dallas performances.
Proceeds from the Filth and the Flautas will go to fund TexPop and High Voltage, a nonprofit that offers free music lessons to high school students in underserved San Antonio communities. For Smith, giving back to young musicians brings the Randy's gig full circle.
"I did miss a true once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," he said. "So, there is a personal mythology to the whole thing as well. This event is reversion therapy or something. But, really, it's just about having fun and raising money for TexPop and High Voltage."
"The Filth and The Flautas (Redux)," $15 in advance, $20 at the door, 3 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 7, Paper Tiger, 2410 N. St. Mary's St., papertigersatx.comSchedule:
- 4 p.m. Pretty Vacant film screening, followed by 15-minute Q&A with Jim Mendiola
- 5 p.m. Speaker Panel
- 6 p.m. Z-Pocalypse
- 6:50 p.m. Cuntry Killers
- 7 p.m. Ty Gavin
- 8:50 p.m. Jefferson Trout
- 9:50 p.m. Sons of Hercules
- 10:50 p.m. Hickoids
- 11:45 p.m. The Babylonznullaceatis