The Clash Live: Revolution Rock
First Appeared in The Music Box, April 2008, Volume 15, #4
Written by John Metzger
Wed April 16, 2008, 07:30 AM CDT
Revolution Rock, Don Letts’ latest Clash-oriented film, isn’t nearly as insightful as Westway to the World, the Grammy-winning documentary that he had put together nearly a decade ago. Although it intertwines narration with performance footage, the dialogue — which also includes a few brief interview snippets — is meant primarily to ease the transition from one performance clip to the next. Consequently, it provides only the most basic details about the group’s career. Nevertheless, there is a story that is told over the course of its 66-minute running time, though its appeal likely will be limited to The Clash’s biggest fans.
Revolution Rock fuses together 22 songs that were recorded between 1977 and 1983. By presenting them almost in chronological order, it depicts The Clash’s transformation from a hard-driving punk band to an arena-rock outfit that desperately was trying to hang onto its roots. It’s fitting that two of the final three songs that are featured on the set (Should I Stay or Should I Go and Career Opportunities) were taken from The Clash’s appearance with The Who at Shea Stadium in 1982. After all, there’s a case to be made that a lot of the group’s work was derived by taking Live at Leeds, cranking it up 10 notches, and injecting it with splashes of reggae and politics. In fact, while watching Revolution Rock, it’s impossible to miss how much Joe Strummer and Mick Jones modeled their mannerisms on stage after The Who’s Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend. It’s equally easy to see the influence that Nicky "Topper" Headon and Paul Simonon had upon U2’s Larry Mullins, Jr. and Adam Clayton.
Over the years, bits and pieces of Revolution Rock have surfaced elsewhere. The footage of Guy Stevens’ crazed antics in the recording studio, for example, was culled from the expanded, "Legacy Edition" of London Calling, and several of the concert scenes first appeared in Jack Hazan’s 1980 film Rude Boy. Nearly half of Revolution Rock was compiled, however, from rare, previously unavailable material. Not surprisingly, the video is, at times, grainy, and the acoustics often are sub-par. Yet, these deficiencies aren’t nearly as distracting as they could have been because they strangely feel perfectly in tune with the group’s aggressive, gritty approach.
Revolution Rock is, without a doubt, peripheral and complementary to the other endeavors within The Clash’s canon. As a result, it doesn’t really function very well as a standalone outing. At the same time, though, the full-force fury of the band’s early performances — What’s My Name, Capital Radio One, White Riot, and a cover of Lee Scratch Perry’s Police & Thieves, in particular — is so compelling that it’s hard to dismiss the collection completely.
The Clash Live: Revolution Rock is available
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2008 The Music Box