The Sex Pistols Play in Dallas’ Longhorn Ballroom; Next Show Is Merle Haggard (1978)

“John­ny Rot­ten and Sid Vicious were both punched in the face by girl fans as the Sex Pis­tols per­formed today deep in the heart of Texas.” That was the lede for the Eng­lish news­pa­per The Evening News cov­er­ing the Pistol’s con­cert at The Long­horn Ball­room in Dal­las, TX on Jan­u­ary 10, 1978. It proved to be one of the strangest, most con­tentions shows in one of the strangest, most con­tentious tours in rock his­to­ry. You can watch it above. All 37 min­utes.

By the time of the con­cert, the Sex Pis­tols were already noto­ri­ous in the U.K.  They had released a sin­gle – “God Save the Queen” – that called Britain’s head of state a fas­cist on the date of her Sil­ver Jubilee. The sin­gle became a huge hit in spite of – or per­haps because of – it get­ting banned by the BBC. They famous­ly hurled obscen­i­ties at a chat show host on live TV.  But to be fair, host Bill Grundy lit­er­al­ly asked for it. “You’ve got anoth­er five sec­onds,” he told John­ny Rot­ten and com­pa­ny. “Say some­thing out­ra­geous.” They did.

Though the band start­ed out as an elab­o­rate Sit­u­a­tion­ist-inspired per­for­mance art piece dreamed up by mega­lo­ma­ni­ac man­ag­er Mal­colm McLaren, they evolved beyond just being a stunt.  Their music was loud, aggres­sive and glee­ful­ly nihilist with lines like “And I wan­na be anar­chist, I get pissed, destroy!” That music and that atti­tude touched some deep sim­mer­ing well of cul­tur­al dis­con­tent — be it low­er class frus­tra­tions, dis­sat­is­fac­tion with con­sumer cul­ture or some dark­er pri­mal urge to burn every­thing down. Their music res­onat­ed.


For their 1978 tour of the Unit­ed States, McLaren wasn’t inter­est­ed in build­ing a fan base. He was inter­est­ed in piss­ing peo­ple off. So the tour com­plete­ly bypassed seem­ing­ly obvi­ous tour stops, like New York, Chica­go and Los Ange­les, in favor of places like Mem­phis, Tul­sa and San Anto­nio – none of which were exact­ly hot beds for punk. A famous pic­ture of the mar­quee of the Long­horn Bal­loon shows the Pis­tols list­ed along­side Mer­le Hag­gard, giv­ing you a feel for just how weird this tour was. Pri­or to the con­cert, Sid Vicious con­fessed his fears to a reporter about play­ing in Dal­las. “They killed Kennedy here and every­body has warned us that the peo­ple are crazy. I think there’s a real dan­ger that this is the town where I am going to be blown away.” (Weird his­tor­i­cal side note: The Long­horn Ball­room was owned for a spell by Jack Ruby, the guy who shot Lee Har­vey Oswald.)

The police were also report­ed­ly wor­ried. The Dal­las police depart­ment had a SWAT team ready just in case the show turned into a riot. It didn’t, but just bare­ly. The audi­ence was equal­ly split between hard­core fans – for exam­ple, Lamar St. John, the woman who decked Sid Vicious in the nose, drove from Los Ange­les to see the show – and skep­ti­cal locals who want­ed to see what the fuss was all about. As one Dal­las paper wrote, “most of the peo­ple last night came to see the peo­ple who came to see the Sex Pis­tols.”

As you can see from the video, John­ny Rot­ten, who spent much of the show look­ing like a tweak­er in the throes of a demon­ic pos­ses­sion, wast­ed few oppor­tu­ni­ties to ridicule the audi­ence. “I see that we have a whole sec­tion of the silent major­i­ty around there,” he sneered. As the band worked its way through the set list, cul­mi­nat­ing in a blis­ter­ing ren­di­tion of “Anar­chy in the U.K.,” the audi­ence hurled beer cans, toma­toes, garbage and the occa­sion­al punch at the stage. It’s not clear if the peo­ple who were doing the throw­ing were fans or irate cow­boys. Such is the world of punk. Sid Vicious, the band’s out­ra­geous if utter­ly untal­ent­ed bassist, jumped around on stage and occa­sion­al­ly con­tributed some aton­al back­ing vocals. After the punch, he let his nose bleed and soon he was cov­ered in blood. “The bass play­er rubbed blood over his face and chest,” wrote the Evening News, “so that he looked like a dement­ed can­ni­bal.”

“Sid was real­ly fucked up. Real­ly drunk,” recalled writer Nick Bar­baro. “He played for a while with­out his gui­tar plugged in. He played for a while with a fish. I think some­body threw it up there, a bass or some­thing. Peo­ple seemed pissed at him. He’d spit on the audi­ence; they’d spit on him. That’s what you did. There was this ele­ment of, ‘You paid to see us play?’”

Four days lat­er, the band broke up. “This is no fun. No fun at all. Ever feel like you’ve been cheat­ed?” Rot­ten weari­ly said on stage in San Fran­cis­co, the Sex Pistol’s final con­cert, before walk­ing off stage and quit­ting the band. Vicious was dead a year lat­er from a hero­in over­dose.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Sex Pis­tols Front­man John­ny Rot­ten Weighs In On Lady Gaga, Paul McCart­ney, Madon­na & Katy Per­ry

John­ny Rotten’s Cor­dial Let­ter to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame: Next to the Sex Pis­tols, You’re ‘a Piss Stain’

Mal­colm McLaren: The Quest for Authen­tic Cre­ativ­i­ty

The His­to­ry of Punk Rock

Jonathan Crow is a Los Ange­les-based writer and film­mak­er whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hol­ly­wood Reporter, and oth­er pub­li­ca­tions. You can fol­low him at @jonccrow.

by | Permalink | Comments (3) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Comments (3)
You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.
  • fordhulick says:

    Thank you for this post Con­nor. It was great work­ing with you and all the stu­dents in Sacramento.I encour­age you to add screen shot of your app and also link to it (if that is ready).

  • paul says:

    They did not play the same night. But facts, what­ev­er.

  • Toad says:

    “Though the band start­ed out as an elab­o­rate Sit­u­a­tion­ist-inspired per­for­mance art piece dreamed up by mega­lo­ma­ni­ac man­ag­er Mal­colm McLaren…”

    This post is a cou­ple of years old and this is a great site, I learn all sorts of things. So all due respect, and that is much respect. But that is a total mis­rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the rela­tion­ship between the Pis­tols and McLaren, it’s just not true.

    And then it con­tin­ues “…they evolved…” and that’s not true either, at least not after Glen Mat­lock got thrown out. The great won­der was the album–a frig­gin’ clas­sic, with tight play­ing, bridge sec­tions and tran­si­tions, mod­u­la­tions, intros and out­ros, per­fect and steady tempos…how all that…professionalism…happened is real­ly the great­est mir­a­cle in rock his­to­ry, because these guys were yob­bos and they nev­er had any­thing to do with “evo­lu­tion.” God love them for it.

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.