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Music Review: The Clash – Live At Shea Stadium

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It’s no mistake that the Clash were once called the only band that matters.

As the seventies were drawing to a close, and rock music was imploding onto itself from virtually all sides, the Clash were looked to by many as the band that was going to save rock and roll from itself. They were loud, they were aggressive, but they also played really well and wrote great songs. Most importantly though, like all of the best rock and roll artists, the Clash were a band who told the truth.

I was fortunate enough myself to witness the Clash in concert on three separate occasions back then, each taking place during very distinct and different periods in their all too brief career.

I have very vivid memories of each show. There was the time that Joe Strummer grabbed a fireman’s axe off the wall at Seattle’s Paramount on the Give Em’ Enough Rope tour, and went after the security guys with it when he saw fans getting roughed up by them down in front. Then there was the time I saw the Clash essentially break up onstage at 1983’s US Festival in Southern California.

But the common thread every time I saw them was that the Clash pushed themselves to the limit, giving pretty much everything they had, without much regard for the potential circumstances. It’s what made them one of the most powerful live bands in the world, with not many coming close either then or since.

As their first official live album, Live At Shea Stadium captures the Clash during a peak period both commercially, and as performers with a reputation as one of rock’s true “must-see” live bands.

Recorded during their stint as openers for the Who during their 1982 stadium tour, the Clash may as well have been co-headliners. They were riding high at the time on the success of the Combat Rock album, and the singles “Rock The Casbah” and “Should I Stay Or Should I Go.” At a time when rock was rapidly changing, the Clash were also leading the charge of that revolution. On that particular tour, there were as many fans buying tickets to see the Clash as they were for the Who.

As a document of that tour, you really couldn’t ask for much better than this. The recording is crisp sounding and clear, which is a bit of a miracle in itself given both the size of the venue, and the very loud, very fast intensity of a typical Clash show.

Here, before a crowd of 50,000 plus, the band rip through their fifty minute set like a runaway buzzsaw. From the opening notes of “London Calling” and “Police On My Back,” the Clash set a frenetically paced tone that doesn’t let up until they have left the stage some fifteen songs later. The band’s often fiery politics take a backseat here to the music itself, as they proceed to play their collective asses off with the sort of fire you might associate more with a sweaty nightclub than a packed stadium.

Yet for all of the punked-up intensity of the faster songs like “Clampdown,” “Tommy Gun,” or their great cover of Bobby Fuller Four’s “I Fought the Law,” when the Clash lock into the reggae groove of songs like “Magnificent Seven” and “Armagideon Time” (which are played here as almost a sort of mini-medley), the rhythm section of Paul Simonon and original drummer Terry Chimes (who fills in for Topper Headon here) are as rock steady as they come.

Even such overplayed songs as “Rock The Casbah” and “Train In Vain” sound remarkably fresh here. Joe Strummer sings as though his life depended on it, Mick Jones guitar crackles with energy, and Simonon and Chimes never lose a step throughout it all.

Simply put, from start to finish, this is one of those great live performances that doesn’t so much as let you catch a breath. Coming as late in the game as it does, Live at Shea Stadium is also one of those rare concert documents capturing one of rock’s greatest live bands on a great night, playing at their peak.

Live at Shea Stadium isn’t just a great live album, it’s also one that is worthy of the group once deemed the only band that matters. You’ll find it in stores this Tuesday October 7.

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About Glen Boyd

Glen Boyd is the author of Neil Young FAQ, released in May 2012 by Backbeat Books/Hal Leonard Publishing. He is a former BC Music Editor and current contributor, whose work has also appeared in SPIN, The Rocket, The Source and other publications. You can read more of Glen's work at The Rockologist, and at the official Neil Young FAQ site. Follow Glen on Twitter and on Facebook.
  • Bob

    RE:
    “Recorded during their stint as openers for the Who during their 1982 stadium tour, the Clash may as well have been co-headliners. They were riding high at the time on the success of the Combat Rock album, and the singles “Rock The Casbah” and “Should I Stay Or Should I Go.” At a time when rock was rapidly changing, the Clash were also leading the charge of that revolution. On that particular tour, there were as many fans buying tickets to see the Clash as they were for the Who.”

    HAHAHAHAHAHAHA no.

    I saw the Clash twice in 1982, once headlining a 3,000 seat venue, and once with the Who, at 90,000 seat JFK Stadium, which sold out in a few hours, before the Clash’s name was ever added to the bill. The other NY/ Philly area Clash shows in ’82 were at slightly larger halls, maybe 6,000 capacity, which they sold out but not immediately. None of them were hard to get tickets to, except the Who shows.

    Combat Rock may just have outsold the Who’s 1982 album, based on the hit singles, but be real. The Who were one of the biggest concert draws in the world in 1982. The Clash were never, ever, close to an arena-level headliner in this country.
    People forget that today, since we have punk-esque bands like Green Day and My Chem Romance headlining arenas and stadium-size festivals. That never happenned in the 1980s, not once.

    Not to take anything away from your otherwise fine review but in the name of history I had to point that out.

  • zingzing

    “As the seventies were drawing to a close, and rock music was imploding onto itself from virtually all sides, the Clash were looked to by many as the band that was going to save rock and roll from itself.”

    first, i love the clash. they’re one of those bands that once you get an itching to hear them, they’re all that will do.

    but!

    rock music was truly at a peak in the late-70s/early-80s. punk may have started the revolution, (and disco played its part as well, but that’s another story,) but it was the post-punk (that blossomed because of punk) that truly started the EXPLOSION of rock music.

    in it’s own way, punk was just as bloated as the prog-rock and california soft rock that it was trying to kill. it became about so much more than the music, for both good and bad. here we were, replacing light shows and drum solos with safety pins and violence. then punk died, at least as a social phenomenon.

    out of that came post-punk, and while the clash were tooling around with blue oyster cult’s producer in 1978, bands all over the (western) world were taking rock music apart and putting it back together again in the freakiest of combinations. all sorts of sounds were being made, and when the clash came back, almost two years later, they took note.

    london calling was fairly trad (yet good at it), but sandanista was a fucking marvel of a mess, taking cues from all over (but mostly from what their english post-punk compatriots were already doing). combat rock slickened it up for mass consumption (and it did have a few stellar moments), but as a whole it was a retreat back into the familiar (for 1982).

    the clash didn’t save rock n roll, it was rock n roll that saved the clash. without their consistent swiping (and unerring taste), the clash would have simply been a preachy (and loud preachy) band. as it stands, they could talk about their subjects almost three times removed (the clash’s interpretation of other british appropriations of various minority musics), with a proper distance and irony.

    i’m not saying they weren’t an important rock band. they just weren’t the only ones that mattered. all they did was say it the loudest.

  • zingzing

    but, a nice review. i wish i had been old enough at the time, etc., etc.

  • Mick

    I am commenting much later here, but I was at The Who concert in Philly in ’82, where the Clash opened. I already liked the band and was excited to see them on the bill. But they lacked the stage presence to fill the stadium stage and never got the crowd fired up. They were practically booed off the stage toward the end — The Who fans had grown impatient. Angered by the crowd’s derisive reaction, the Clash yelled at the end, “We’ll be back!” I don’t think so.

  • ClashWereLame

    Bob’s right. JFK sold out in a blink for The Who. And The Clash were boo’d off stage. They might have been great playing Bond’s but at JFK they had zero power, presence or charisma. The sounded as weak as the Hooters who proceeded them. People either boo’d The Clash or just ignored them.

    They weren’t even *close* to being one of the best live bands in 1982. No sense of dynamics and flow and smart set list organization.

    The Clash were also boo’d vocally at Shea both nights. No way were they co-headliners. You are projecting your wishes.

    Pete Townshend may have *intended* to pass the baton to The Clash with this tour but The Clash were and are a fringe group. They never once did even a 20,000 seat arena tour because they couldn’t sell it in the U.S. (b.s. integrity issues aside). And didn’t have the presence and stage dynamics to hold even a basketball arena let alone U.S. stadiums.

    They’re a small club/pub band that couldn’t handle scaling up their success. This Shea set is their parasitical reliance on Townshend giving them a big audience.

    The only band that mattered, sure, to a fringe niche audience.