Live at Shea Stadium
First Appeared in The Music Box, October 2008, Volume 15, #10
Written by John Metzger
Mon October 20, 2008, 06:30 AM CDT
Unlike most of its peers, The Clash wasn’t afraid to temper its abrasiveness, embrace melodic structures, and dabble in an array of styles that stretched from rockabilly to reggae. There was, after all, no better method for the group to reach the masses with its populist message than to make some necessary concessions to its art, which incidentally was a lesson that wasn’t lost on either Green Day or U2. Live at Shea Stadium highlights the tenuous balance that The Clash struck between its commercial aspirations and its punk rock roots.
Recorded on October 13, 1982, Live at Shea Stadium captures The Clash at the peak of its popularity as well as on the brink of its precipitous decline. Thrust squarely into the limelight by the success of Should I Stay or Should I Go and Rock the Casbah, its twin singles from Combat Rock, the outfit had secured an opening slot for a series of shows that also featured The Who and David Johansen. Despite the ousting of drummer Topper Headon, who had anchored The Clash’s best years so solidly, the collective ripped through 14 songs in 45 minutes, barely acknowledging that anything was amiss.
As the rain poured down, The Clash knew that it had to do everything in its power to hold the interest of the crowd that had assembled at Shea Stadium. At the same time, though, front man Joe Strummer couldn’t resist jousting with the audience, pushing it not only to dance along but also to pay attention to the band’s politically charged lyrics. Featuring songs such as London Calling, Train in Vain, and Spanish Bombs — as well as a rumbling cover of I Fought the Law — The Clash’s set touched upon all of the requisite bases in its canon. At the same time, the collective countered the creeping professionalism of its well-paced showcase by wrenching Rock the Casbah away from its familiar musical theme and returning it to the outfit’s grittier roots.
Folded into The Magnificent Seven’s funk-meets-punk refrains, a rendition of Willie Williams and Jackie Mittoo’s Armagideon Time gave The Clash an opportunity to broaden its horizons by placing its rebellious attitude within the context of the world music scene. Nevertheless, although the song provided some variation, it also served as the set’s lone misstep because it slowed down the group’s momentum considerably. Fortunately, the bulk of The Clash’s performance at Shea Stadium was an aggressive onslaught that pitted militaristic cadences against spiky shards of laser-ignited guitar.
From the frantic energy of Police on My Back to the biting rage of Career Opportunities, The Clash delivered a program that took no prisoners. In fact, the band almost seemed to dare Johansen and The Who to match the furious intensity as well as the relevance of its performance. Although The Clash largely held its ground within the impersonal atmosphere of the oversized sports venue, the group clearly wasn’t an arena-made outfit nor did it want to become one. It’s no wonder that Strummer kept poking and prodding at the assembled crowd in an attempt to find a connection. He never really did, and as a result, Live at Shea Stadium never quite achieves the same iconic status as The Who’s Live at Leeds. Its best moments, however, come close.
Of Further Interest...
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
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