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.