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Articles and Reviews: MUSIC

Live At Shea Stadium by The Clash (Sony)

Who were the greatest live band ever? That’s a question, not a statement. The Stones have long had the accolade attached to them, as have the aforementioned Who, who as it happens, alternative candidates the Clash were in fact supporting here, at this October 13, 1982 gig in an arena already rich in rock mythology, via the Beatles. I guess a lot depends on where and when you saw your nominees, how many times you saw them, how young (or old) you were, even where and whether you were sitting or standing.
Your present correspondent’s Damascus moment occurred on October 15, 1977 in the Exam Hall in Trinity College, and the initial impact was sustained when the Clash – for it is they – played the Top Hat in Dun Laoghaire the following year. How does this documentary exhibit, recorded almost five years later to the day, measure up? Surprisingly well, all things considered.
Granted Pete Townshend’s imprimatur, the band were clearly anxious not to drop the torch, even if playing to 72,000 rain-sodden classic rock fans in a ball park was potentially way more intimidating than the club venues they were accustomed to. But what this album stands as a testament to is Joe Strummer’s sheer showmanship. “That must be about twenty-five minutes by now!” he ad libs during ‘The Magnificent Seven’, highlighting the breakneck pace adopted to cram as many songs as possible into a necessarily truncated opening slot, a warm up that was also a showcase.




And how they succeeded, from out-of-the-blacks ‘London Calling’ to the home straight sprint including ‘Working For The Clampdown’, ‘Should I Stay Or Should I Go’ and a furiously ragged ‘I Fought The Law’, Mick Jones’ effortlessly fluent guitar work anchored by Paul Simenon’s skanking bass throughout. If there is a flaw, it lies in the absence of the towering talent that was drummer Topper Headon, ousted because of his heroin addiction, and replaced here by Terry Chimes (jokingly credited as ‘Tory Crimes’ on the debut album on which he played). Chimes was a journeyman, solid if uninspiring; Headon was innovative, and it is arguable that the band could never have explored genres as diverse as reggae, jazz, disco and funk without his contribution. For this reason, 1999’s career spanning From Here To Eternity, the only other officially released live record of the Clash, perhaps remains more essential than Shea, although both are mandatory for fans.
From Trinity Exam Hall to Shea Stadium is a remarkable trajectory, but they never lost it. Damn hard to beat the Clash on a good night, and this was one.

First published in Magill magazine, December 2008














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