Punk Rock Legends Take Their Music To New Levels in "Punk Goes Acoustic"

Mar 17, 2014

Matlock, left, and Sylvain bring their hits to the stage in acoustic form as part of their tour, 'Punk Goes Acoustic.'
Credit Courtesy of Jo Murray

Punk rock is a genre of music known for its authority-bucking attitude, aggressive lyrics and energetic sound.

But when you unplug the amp and slow things down, you’ll find that there’s a new appreciation for how things are done. Just ask Glen Matlock, bass guitarist and founder of British punk rock group the Sex Pistols. 

"All the best songs are about the lyrics, and you can hear the lyrics clearer. We still give it 100%, if not more," he says. 

Matlock has teamed up with fellow bass player and founding member of the New York Dolls Sylvain Sylvain to present ‘Punk Goes Acoustic,’ an evening of music from each of their bands focused primarily on the stripped down sound.  

Rock group "The New York Dolls" perform at the Waldorf Halloween Ball, Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, NYC, Oct. 31, 1973. At left is lead singer David Johansen, with guitarist Sylvain Sylvain.
Credit Richard Drew / Associated Press

“You gotta remember that we’re both writers and we’re both basically playing the songs that we wrote in our careers in the bands that we were in, and we wrote those songs basically on acoustic guitars," says Sylvain.

"The performance turns out to be like the way you would have heard it [as if] I just wrote the song and I recorded it on my little cassette recorder or nowadays on a smart phone. And that’s really how it translate, and it’s really good.” 

Matlock agrees:

“Actually you could almost call it ‘Punk Goes Back To Being Acoustic,’ because I think you’ll find that both Sylvain Sylvain and myself, all the songs that we play actually started out live from an acoustic guitar in the first place in our bedrooms. So in a way we’ve kind of gone full circle.”

Four decades ago, neither Matlock nor Sylvain realized that the groups they founded would create a personality that would only continue to grow with mystery and a cult following.

Known for their songs ‘God Save the Queen’ and ‘Holidays in the Sun,’ the Sex Pistols were together for three years and produced only one studio album. Matlock was there for two. 

“We always thought we were just the Sex Pistols - we didn’t considered ourselves punk. It was a name that was laid upon us. But it’s not one that we moan about too much because we understand the importance of it,” he says of cementing their legacy.

British punk rock band the Sex Pistols are seen in Amsterdam in Jan. 1977. From left to right: Johnny Rotten, Glen Matlock, Paul Cook, and Steve Jones.Credit Associated PressEdit | Remove

Formed in 1970, the New York Dolls only released two studio albums during their five year stint, and cultivated their personality with an outlandish stage presence and ear-splitting sound.

Their self-title 1973 debut album helped them clench the title of both best and worst new group of the year from Creem Magazine. 

“In our case it wasn’t just music it was the whole style and everything else that we introduced. We were sort of the ground zero for what they call punk and all that, and it opened up clubs and everything else,” remembers Sylvain.

Matlock and Sylvain have known each other since their band days, and both musicians have also continued to play music both solo and in several small groups.

They’ve also done reunion shows with their respective bands in recent years, but when the opportunity came along a few years ago for the two of them to play together, it was one that sounded too good to pass up, says Sylvain. 

“In our bands we really don’t have a chance to really stretch out except when we go solo - so this is really great because we come out and we perform solo...and then we jam together and it’s really an audience thing. The audience is basically as far as I’m concerned 100 percent of the show."

He adds, “Although we are playing acoustic guitars there’s nothing really acoustic about it.”

Matlock and Sylvain perform separately and then end the show by playing together. It’s an experience that could only come from years of following your talent and continuing to pursue your passion.

Says Matlock, “I kind of like doing this. It’s far more immediate. You just turn up for shows, take your guitar out, tune up, and you’re playing and you’ve got instant communication.”

“The biggest buzz in the world for me is people picking up on and identifying with and understanding something that came up purely out of your head in your bedroom 30 years ago, 35 years ago, or five days ago because you’ve written a new song. When people get that, it’s a real buzz. Because to me music is about communication. You get paid for practicing in front of people.”

Punk Goes Acoustic will take place on March 21 at Bell’s Brewery.