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Published: 2008/04/30
by Mark Burnell

The Clash : The Clash Live Revolution Rock

Epic

The Clash were without doubt the greatest live band to come out of the punk era. The passion and ferocity of their onstage performances during the relatively brief time the band was together have become the stuff of legend. Unfortunately, unless you were lucky enough to have actually seen The Clash , you’d have a hard time finding any actual footage to back up this legendary status. The sole “official” live Clash album From here to Eternity is disappointing and patchy, and on the DVD front there’s a cheapo “greatest hits on video” compilation and Don Letts’ excellent Westway to the World documentary that, while being a fine overview of the history of the band, is sadly lacking in full songs. If a fan wanted to relive the heart-stopping excitement of a Clash live show, he was forced to the realms of the bootleggers and the fan underground to achieve his goal. Thankfully, leading up to the 30th anniversary of the very first Clash release White Riot, someone over at Epic had the sense to commission Don Letts to compile this first full length DVD of the Clash live, and while it’s not quite perfect, it’s damned good.

Letts is a perfect choice to helm what, judging by the press release, is intended to be a definitive collection. He was a friend/DJ/confidante to the band from its earliest days, and his pair of Clash documentaries (apart from Westway he also did a special “making of” segment for the bonus DVD in the 25th Anniversary re-release of London Calling) are superb. Drawing from multiple sources and multiple years and keeping to a roughly chronological timeline, Letts manages to show how The Clash developed (in just five years!) from rebel-rousers producing a wall of angry noise for an audience of 50 people to the greatest rock and roll band in the world, blowing The Who off the stage at Shea Stadium. The song selection is judicious, to say the least, encompassing both the hits (“Train in Vain,” “Should I Say or Should I Go,” a blistering “London Calling”) and the passionately political (“White Riot” and an absolutely astonishing take on “Know Your Rights” from the US Festival in 1983 in front of the biggest crowd The Clash ever played for). Letts also edits in brief quotes and snippets of background footage between songs to give some context without interrupting the flow of music, and the result is simply riveting.

The Clash ended up feeling remarkably at home in New York, and there is some terrific footage of The Clash performing live on The Tomorrow Show With Tom Snyder in 1981, playing music with rap elements while a graffiti artist spray paints in the background. The interview with Snyder appears in full in the bonus section, as does a surprisingly fine segment where NYC local anchor Sue Simmons, who nowadays staidly anchors the evening news but here looks all of 20 years old, does a terrific interview with Joe Strummer and Topper Headon live on the 5:00 news, all tied to The Clash’s now legendary residency at Bonds Casino in Times Square.

I do have two minor quibbles. First, it seems inconceivable that there isn’t more footage of the Bond’s Casino shows available (Letts was filming the band pretty much full time during the run), and it’s a shame there isn’t more footage from those legendary shows (unless, of course, a separate Bonds Casino DVD is in the works, in which case I’ll be a very happy man indeed). Secondly, I don’t understand why there is no version of “Armagideon Time” included here. The song was the centerpiece of countless Clash shows, and there’s a particularly electrifying version I remember being broadcast on English TV as part of the Concert for Kampuchea benefit. It’s absence here is mystifying and quite bewildering.

Even with those minor quibbles, this release is essential for anyone with a passing interest in Rock n Roll. The Clash were once known as “the only band that mattered,” and now we finally have a DVD that shows just how the band were able to inspire such devotion.

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