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Welcome to the Casbah Club

Analise Lipari | Sunday, November 2, 2008

Listening to the Legacy Records release “The Clash: Live at Shea Stadium” is like opening a time capsule from 1979. With the band’s legendary body of work amplified by a live performance, the album feels spontaneous, electric and alive in ways that current alternative and post-punk bands dream of being.

“Live from Shea Stadium” is a recording of a 1982 concert that The Clash gave with The Who and David Johansen at Shea in New York City.

It opens with a recorded introduction from a radio executive, saying that Kosmo Vinyl was bringing Shea Stadium “a little bit of London” right in New York. The live factor electrifies the album, bringing new life to each classic Clash track.

It’s fitting that the first track is “London Calling,” which still sounds painfully good decades later. The performance feels raw and fresh, down to the occasional squeal of a microphone. In “London Calling” and the rest of “Live from Shea Stadium,” the influence of The Clash on eighties, nineties and millennial rock is obvious.

At one point on “London Calling,” Strummer howls at the audience, animalistic and raw. What really pushes the track and the rest of the recording over the top is the live element, especially here. The buzz of the crowd, Strummer’s musings and the spontaneity of the music itself only compound how extraordinary the Clash really were.

If you’re unfamiliar with the band’s history, buy this album – you’ll be surprised how much of the Clash library is integrated into pop culture. “Police on My Back,” the third track, is a familiar youth anthem, with Strummer shouting “Help me/Police on my back.” With the hum of Shea Stadium in the background, “Police on My Back” feels like a sprint through the streets of London on an angry summer night.

One of the tracks whose influence on today’s music scene is obvious is “Tommy Gun,” whose live performance feels electric, pulsating and alive in ways that alternative rock today only dreams of being.

It’s clear from this track in particular that bands like Green Day should thank the Clash in the liner notes of every album they’ve released. The chorus is piercing and memorable, and the lyrics’ left-wing politics complement each gruff guitar strum.

“Rock the Casbah” feels aggressive, with heavier guitar and vocals than the original released recording. Strummer plays off of the audience with each spit-coated word he flings their way, right down to screaming “He hates that!” after “The Sharif don’t like it” in the song’s chorus.

“Guns of Brixton” highlights the band’s signature style. The guitar is dark and playful, and jarring electric riffs juxtapose against Strummer’s half-mumble, half-exclamation in each lyric.

There is no low point on “Live from Shea Stadium.” Other excellent tracks include “The Magnificent Seven,” “Train in Vain,” which features lead vocals by Mick Jones, and “Should I Stay or Should I Go,” which, here, is downright fantastic.

The Clash, borne out of 1970s London, consisted of Joe Strummer, born John Graham Mellor (lead vocals, rhythm guitar), Paul Simonon (bass, backing vocals), Mick Jones (lead guitar, vocals) and Nicky “Topper” Headon (drums, percussion) for most of their history. Dubbed “The Only British Band that Matters” by their record label (and later “The Only Band that Matters” by their fans), they were inducted into the Rock and Roll hall of Fame in 2003 and were named number 30 in Rolling Stone’s list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time in 2004.

In 2007 a documentary about Strummer’s life, “Joe Strummer: The Future is Unwritten,” debuted at the Sundance Film Festival, and a film documenting Strummer’s politics, the Tim Robbins-produced “Let Fury Have the Hour,” is due this year.

Bob Gruen, a rock photographer, writes in the album’s liner notes that the Clash always needed to be “in touch with their fans.” At the 1982 Shea Stadium concert, though, Gruen writes that a security zone separated the band and their fans.

“I was surprised when The Clash broke up a few weeks later,” he writes, “but I understood why. They didn’t want to be so big that they couldn’t reach the people.”

While the event might have signaled the end of The Clash as punk lovers knew them, “Live at Shea Stadium” is only one way the band’s legacy can still reach the people