Back in 1984, the Who released one of those “cleverly” titled Who albums called Who’s Last. It was a posthumous attempt by MCA records to cash in on The Who after the announcement that the band would call it quits. The album was a lackluster affair that later turned out to be a bit premature with the entire farewell connotation.
The idea of The Clash playing at Shea Stadium is a bit misleading too as they were on the bill after David Johansen‘s set and just before, you guessed it, The Who. The entire “passing the torch” motif looked good on paper, but the unfortunate reality was that The Clash themselves were also reaching the end of their career. It’s also important to note that, despite initial reports that The Clash’s fans rivaled The Who’s in actual numbers, most people in attendance remember a pretty hostile Who crowd, booing the opening act in the hopes that they would get off the stage.
The reality then must come from the content, and when you compare the audio evidence, you hear immediately that the band with the tightest set was the band that still had something to prove.
While far from being the best Clash show ever (and, no, it does not rival such live landmarks as Live At The Apollo or Live At Leeds like the press release claims), it does provide a glimpse of The Clash’s live prowess even when internal strife may have been pulling the band apart behind the scenes.
The London Calling material sounds tight and well rehearsed and the older material is a careful selection of crowd-pleasers (“I Fought The Law,” “English Civil War,” “Tommy Gun”). The surprise is the two Combat Rock selections (the hits, of course) which feature rough arrangements when compared to their studio counterparts.
There is very little experimentation and nothing that hints at The Clash’s reggae influence. “The Magnificent Seven” is the extent of the band’s early rap direction, probably included on the Shea set because it actually receive some radio support around the N.Y.C. area when Sandinista! was released.
The song selection, the pacing, the energy, it’s all representative of a band given forty-five minutes as an opener for a huge headliner. The Clash sound like they’re trying to utilize every minute of the opportunity and, for the most part, they succeed. Did they win over many Who fans? Probably not, but it’s pretty indicative of the band’s willingness to walk into a hostile situation and prove it where it matters the most.
I’m sure there’s a lot of people in attendance for this performance that now count themselves as Clash fans, but they got there on their own terms. This performance is merely one step to get to that point, a satisfying piece of audio evidence for the faithful and a late catalog curio for those starting out. In other words, you already know what Clash albums you need to hear first, but at least now you’ve got a chance hear where the band ended up.
Video: The Clash Live at Shea