03
Dec
08

"If you don’t know what’s happening, just ask the person next to you": The Clash’s Live at Shea Stadium

There are times when I actually forget how much The Clash means to me. They were the first band to show me that music could be intelligent and political, but that it could also be worth rocking out to, too. I finally managed to buy a copy of Live at Shea Stadium, albeit two months after its release, and it caused all those feelings bound up in The Clash to come flooding back to me, nearly making me cry. I suddenly felt younger and more idealistic again; I felt that I could fight with The Clash resonating in the pit of my stomach again. Their gig opening for The Who at Shea Stadium in 1982 is often regarded as their peak before their dissolution (though small cracks were beginning to show with the replacement of Topper Headon with Terry Chimes). There’s no doubt that this performance sees The Clash at the top of their game, but I often think that it also signified an irreconcilable paradox for the band, especially Joe Strummer. For a band who wanted to remain accessible to every person, this kind of blown-out success was difficult to navigate. Resplendent in the military attire to inspire a thousand bands, The Clash truly became the people’s army, but this army was hardly a rebellious secret anymore. It’s the classic case of needing fame to get a message across, but once fame is achieved and you’re preaching it from hundreds of metres away from the very people you want to feel close to, the message can no longer be the same as it once was. A testament to The Clash’s strong principles, the band still allowed fans backstage at Shea Stadium to talk to them despite the presence of famous fans like Andy Warhol and David Bowie.

This live recording is also evidence of why The Clash worked so well – their set isn’t pretentious or obscure, but nor is it lightweight. They chose songs from across their five albums, but rather than just playing their well-known successes in America, they also played songs like Career Opportunities and English Civil War. The gig kicks off with a storming rendition of London Calling before Mick Jones takes the mic for Police On My Back and Paul Simonon takes it for The Guns of Brixton – these three opening songs come to represent the band in microcosm, displaying the variety of talent and strong individuals within The Clash and how they worked together to create something so incredible. Then in typical fashion, Joe Strummer tells the crowd, “If you don’t know what’s going on, just ask the person next to you,” before launching into Tommy Gun. What comes next is a fantastic self-contained section of the show: Armagideon Time bracketed by The Magnificent Seven. It is the closest to noodling that The Clash ever does, but it isn’t pompous or boring – it burns with the same energy that the rest of the gig does, and it is possibly my favourite part of the whole album. Not to mention their self-awareness in the lyrics of The Magnificent Seven of how long it goes on, which Strummer riffs off of during this performance.

Then they play Rock the Casbah, but in a refreshingly different way. Amidst the howls from Strummer, Mick Jones blows through Train in Vain, smoothly trading off with Strummer again for the punk classic Career Opportunities. This is followed by more from London Calling: Spanish Bombs and Clampdown, the latter with Strummer snarling and spitting at his best, threatening to “tear up the sound system.” After telling the audience to bring their granddaddies out to sing English Civil War, they create a blistering performance that takes the traditional American Civil War song into 20th century relevance and makes a profound connection on American soil. The crowd then screams in recognition for the opening bars of Should I Stay Or Should I Go, which seems to run at hyperspeed. The set crashes to its finale with I Fought the Law – I defy any band to be able to close a show so effectively and so brilliantly with a cover song. It demonstrates how totally The Clash came to own the songs they covered. At one point earlier in the gig, Strummer tells the crowd to dance because it will be easier to avoid the rain that way, but I dare you not to dance through the entire record.

If you don’t already have this album, you should. If only to hear Joe Strummer’s interjections and banter with the audience or Mick Jones’s unbelievable guitar work or Paul Simonon’s distinctive bass rhythms. It is the document of a band screaming their way to the finish, desperately trying to leap that security gap without destroying themselves in the process.

Rock the Casbah – The Clash (Live at Shea Stadium)

I Fought the Law – The Clash (Live at Shea Stadium)

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1 Response to “"If you don’t know what’s happening, just ask the person next to you": The Clash’s Live at Shea Stadium”


  1. 1 Neil
    December 4, 2008 at 2:56 pm

    Thanks, but I had to stop reading your article halfway through, since I realised you were telling me everything that happens on the album!


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The only certain thing that is left about me

There is no part of my body that has not been used

Pity or pain, to show displeasure's shame

Everyone I've loved or hated always seems to leave

Photobucket

So I turned myself to face me

But I've never caught a glimpse

Of how the others must see the faker

I'm much too fast to take that test

The Smiths Queen is Dead

A dreaded sunny day

So let's go where we're happy

And I meet you at the cemetry gates

Oh, Keats and Yeats are on your side

A dreaded sunny day

So let's go where we're wanted

And I meet you at the cemetry gates

Keats and Yeats are on your side

But you lose 'cause weird lover Wilde is on mine

The Clash London Calling

When they kick at your front door

How you gonna come?

With your hands on your head

Or on the trigger of your gun

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Charles Windsor, who's at the door

At such an hour, who's at the door

In the back of an old green Cortina

You're on your way to the guillotine

Here the rabble comes

The kind you hoped were dead

They've come to chop, to chop off your head

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Then you came with your breezeblocks

Smashing up my face like a bus-stop

You think you're giving

But you're taking my life away

Photobucket

Won't someone give me more fun?

(and the skin flies all around us)

We kiss in his room to a popular tune

Oh, real drowners

Photobucket

Don't walk away

In silence

See the danger

Always danger

Endless talking

Life rebuilding

Don't walk away

Walk in silence

Don't turn away in silence

Your confusion

My illusion

Worn like a mask of self-hate

Confronts and then dies

Don't walk away

Photobucket

You don't want to hurt me

But see how deep the bullet lies

Unaware I'm tearing you asunder

Oh there is thunder in our hearts

Is there so much hate for the ones we love

Tell me we both matter don't we

The Associates Affectionate

I don't know whether

To over or under estimate you

Whether to over or under estimate you

For when I come over

You then put me under

Personal taste is a matter of gender

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I wake at dusk to go alone without a light

To the unknown

I want this night inside of me

I want to feel

I want this speeding

I want that speeding

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You'll never live like common people

You'll never do what common people do

You'll never fail like common people

You'll never watch your life slide out of view

And dance and drink and screw

Because there's nothing else to do

Vanilla Swingers

All I have is words, words that don't obtain

And I feel I'm a stain on your horizon

So I stay away - it's easier that way

And there won't be no-one I need to rely on

Is it him, is it me

Or is there something only I can see

How did I get here, why do we blow around like straw dogs on the breeze

I'm a special one, what they used to say

But I've to stay on, finish levels-A

You don't need exams when you've read John Gray

The Indelicates American Demo

And nobody ever comes alive

And the journalists clamour round glamour like flies

And boys who should know better grin and get high

With fat men who once met the MC5

And no one discusses what they don't understand

And no one does anything to harm the brand

And this gift is an illusion, this isn't hard

Absolutely anyone can play the fucking guitar

JAMC Darklands

And we tried so hard

And we looked so good

And we lived our lives in black

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Plucked her eyebrows on the way

Shaved her leg and then he was a she

She says, hey babe,

Take a walk on the wild side

Said, hey honey, take a walk on the wild side

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Hide on the promenade

Etch a postcard:

How I dearly wish I was not here

In the seaside town...that they forgot to bomb

Come, come, come - nuclear bomb

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Back when we were kids

We would always know when to stop

And now all the good kids are messing up

Nobody has gained or accomplished anything

Wire Pink Flag

Prices have risen since the government fell

Casualties increase as the enemy shell

The climate's unhealthy, flies and rats thrive

And sooner or later the end will arrive

This is your correspondent, running out of tape

Gunfire's increasing, looting, burning, rape

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Well, maybe there's a god above

But all I've ever learned from love

Was how to shoot somebody who outdrew you

It's not a cry that you hear at night

It's not somebody who's seen the light

It's a cold and it's a broken hallelujah

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And what costume shall the poor girl wear

To all tomorrow's parties

For Thursday's child is Sunday's clown

For whom none will go mourning

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My body is your body

I won't tell anybody

If you want to use my body

Go for it

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Oh it's opening time

Down on Fascination Street

So let's cut the conversation

And get out for a bit

Because I feel it all fading and paling

And I'm begging

To drag you down with me

Mansun Six

And you see, I kind of shivered to conformity

Did you see the way I cowered to authority

You see, my life, it's a series of compromises anyway

It's a sham, and I'm conditioned to accept it all, you see

Japan Gentlemen

Take in the country air, you'll never win

Gentlemen take polaroids

They fall in love, they fall in love

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We just want to emote til we're dead

I know we suffer for fashion

Or whatever

We don't want these days to ever end

We just want to emasculate them forever

Forever, forever

Pretty sirens don't go flat

It's not supposed to happen like that

Longpigs The Sun

There's no perfume I can buy

Make me smell like myself

So I put on perfume

To make me smell like someone else

In bed

Calvin Harris I Created Disco

I got love for you if you were born in the 80's, the 80's

I've got hugs for you if you were born in the 80's, the 80's

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Does his makeup in his room

Douse himself with cheap perfume

Eyeholes in a paper bag

Greatest lay I ever had

Kind of guy who mates for life

Gotta help him find a wife

We're a couple, when our bodies double

Simple Minds Sons and Fascination

Summer rains are here

Savaged beauty life

Falling here from grace

Sister feeling call

Cruising land to land

No faith no creed no soul

Half a world away

Beauty sleeps in time

Sound and fury play

Bloc Party Silent Alarm

North to south

Empty

Running on

Bravado

As if to say, as if to say

He doesn't like chocolate

He's born a liar, he'll die a liar

Some things will never be different

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LCD Soundsystem

Well Daft Punk is playing at my house, my house

I've waited 7 years and 15 days

There's every kid for miles at my house, my house

And the neighbors can't...call the police

There's a fist fight brewin' at my house, my house

Because the jocks can't...get in the door

Johnny Boy

I just can't help believing

Though believing sees me cursed

Stars Set Yourself

I am trying to say

What I want to say

Without having to say "I love you"

Josef K Entomology

It took 10 years to realise why the angels start to cry

When you go home down the main

Your happy smile

Your funny name

Cocteau Twins Bluebell

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Doesn't she look a million with her hairagami set

Hair kisses 'n' hair architecture

Yes, she's a beautiful brunette angel from heaven with her hairagami set

Hair kisses 'n' hair architecture

Augment a beautiful brunette

New Order Power Corruption

How does it feel

To treat me like you do

When you've laid your hands upon me

And told me who you are

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You must let her go

She's not crying

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Baiting

Feeling like I'm waiting

Modern times

Valentines

Hating

Hating to distraction

Just leave them alone

Whipcrack

Girls in the back

Girls in the back

Puressence Don't Forget

They say come back to earth and start getting real, yeah

I say come back to earth and start getting real

I know I can't

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So I walk right up to you

And you walk all over me

And I ask you what you want

And you tell me what you need

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The problem of leisure

What to do for pleasure

Ideal love a new purchase

A market of the senses

Dream of the perfect life

Economic circumstances

The body is good business

Sell out, maintain the interest

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Sitting in my armchair thinking again and again and again

Going round in a circle I can't get out

Then I look around thinking day and night and day

Then you look around - there must be some explanation

And the tension builds

Psychdedelic Furs

India, India

You're my love song

India, you're my love song

In the flowers

You can have me in the flowers

We will dance alone

And live our useless lives

Ladytron Light Magic

They only want you when you're seventeen

When you're twenty-one

You're no fun

They take a polaroid and let you go

Say they'll let you know

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No consolation prizes

Spit out your lies and chewing gum

Cut off your hair yeah that's it!

If you look like that I swear I'm gonna love you more

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All the neighbors are startin' up a fire

Burning all the old folks, the witches and the liars.

My eyes are covered by the hands of my unborn kids

But my heart keeps watchin' through the skin of my eyelids

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Prince charming

Prince charming

Ridicule is nothing to be scared of

Don't you ever, don't you ever

Stop being dandy, showing me you're handsome


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