Live at Shea Stadium – The Clash
It’s 1982 and this young Who fan jumped at the chance to see them live at Cleveland’s Richfield Coliseum on what was billed as the band’s “farewell tour.” Despite supporting a new album, the dates unfolded amidst much controversy i.e. sponsorship from a beer company after it was revealed that Pete Townshend conquered his alcoholism, cashing in on a final big payday. You know, the type of things that the Rolling Stones get away with each time they hit the road. But, prior to Townshend, Daltrey, Entwistle and Jones hitting the stage, the lights went down for the opening act, Little Stephen and the Disciples of Soul. The side project of Steve Van Zandt, longtime Northeast Ohio favorite as a member of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, found itself booed or, more precisely, Who-eed during its time onstage. It was then I found out that Who fans are a rough bunch. No pleasing them unless it’s the familiar power and grace supplied by the headliner. Which brings me to the Clash, an act that, despite its roots in punk rock, displayed the anthemic capabilities and force of which the Who were capable.
The current connection of these two generations of English rock acts comes in the form of Live at Shea Stadium, the document of the Clash’s opening performance for the Who on October 13th 1982. Despite band tensions rising, which led to the sacking of Mick Jones within the year, the album sounds like a group defiantly united against the world and moving forward with the confidence brought about by an arsenal of game-changing material and knowledge that no matter the size of the venue, the music, the message and the spirit will make it through to the last rows. It begins, appropriately, with an introduction by road manager/spokesman Kosmo Vinyl, who initiates all the brashness, abundant energy and good-natured arrogance to follow.
A “Welcome to the Casbah Club!” from Joe Strummer references the band’s hit single, “Rock the Casbah” as well as informs the thousands in attendance that they’re in Clash territory now so forget about getting in line for beer, it’s time to make this count! And that they do with the opening salvo of “London Calling,” “Police On My Back” and “Guns of Brixton.” If the Clash was viewed as selling out by playing such a large place, it certainly didn’t show in their performance. Despite the distance from artist to audience, the intensity remains and the songs don't suffer. They make sure the hits are represented in all their glory “Casbah,” “Should I Stay Or Should I Go” and “Train In Vain” but the nod to commercial success doesn’t eliminate their impact, especially during a career-spanning set that travels from their roots (“Career Opportunities”) to creative zenith (“Clampdown”) and beyond.
At one point, Strummer announces, “We’d like to take you to New York to Jamaica and back” and we find the dub reggae-influenced “Armagideon Time” sandwiched between the hip-hop influenced “The Magnificent Seven.” It was during this that I couldn’t help but wonder if the Clash existed today, would the elastic criteria of the jamband community now include this proudly punk act? The group’s artistic inquisitiveness makes it a justifiable thought that, in the 21st century, a What Stage set by the Clash at Bonnaroo would have made sense.
Downloading a number of Clash shows from throughout the band’s brief history, it’s possible to find an earlier gig with a more intense version of “Tommy Gun” or even “I Fought the Law.” But, at that moment in ’82, the Clash was fighting the elements — inside and outside their ranks and against the forces of nature. On that soggy fall evening, they proved that the size of the stage doesn’t matter but the performers on it do.