Live at Shea Stadium
3 out of 5 Stars
During its heyday, The Clash fancied itself as a living legend of sorts. More often than not, it lived up to its mythical status, and when fans labeled it “The Only Band That Matters,” those fans meant it. So for the Clash, which at its best was the rightful heir to The Beatles’s rock’n’roll throne, releasing a live album recorded at Shea Stadium (also the site of famous 1966 Beatles show) is a valid self-celebrating action.
The irony of the Shea show is that it doesn’t really communicate The Clash’s revered live heroics. Far from virtuosos, the members of The Clash always got more mileage out of their energy and passion than their musical chops. The spacious confines of Shea, however, deflated much of The Clash’s trademark intensity. By this 1982 date opening for The Who, The Clash was no longer the lean machine that threatened to bring down concert hall roofs a mere three years earlier. And the recent departure of ever-present drummer Topper Headon wasn’t helping much. Yet they were still too damn great to suck.
The dueling guitar riffs of Joe Strummer and Mick Jones that jumpstart opener “London Calling” spit venom, and the rest of the run-through is relentlessly note-perfect. But there’s a hint of fatigue in Strummer’s fiery cries and a pervasive emptiness that must mirror the acoustic oblivion of a baseball stadium. Later, both “Should I Stay Or Should I Go” and “Career Opportunities” are superficially lights-out, but they, too, are a few degrees from Clash-exclusive ferocity.
Live at Shea Stadium first hits its stride with Paul Simonon’s “The Guns of Brixton,” which relies more on understated, brooding political passion than adrenaline feats. And that’s when Shea really works: when The Clash doesn’t have to go balls-to-the wall. Even if the performances are rather calculated, “Spanish Bombs” and “Train in Vain” are highlights of the set simply for their classic melodies. “Bombs” is also the beneficiary of splintering Mick Jones guitar fills that were rarely let loose in the studio.
The biggest surprise — and the most redeeming moment — of Shea is a particularly hot serving of “The Magnificent Seven.” While the bass-carried disco version that kicked off Sandinista! was truly impotent, the guitar-heavy live rendition explodes with vigor. The caustic, lightning riffing is essentially proto-Rage Against the Machine. Frustratingly, “Seven” is split in half by “Armagideon Time,” an embarrassing example of The Clash going reggae.
“Rock the Casbah,” which would soon become the only U.S. top-10 hit for the band, is an utter failure. Lacking its signature jumpy keyboard rhythm, the Shea version is something of an overworked, afterthought hard-rock mess.
Even if Live at Shea Stadium can’t do justice to The Clash’s on-stage fire-breathing, the seminal songs themselves keep the whole set afloat. Besides, the best live magic is nearly impossible to capture on tape. And if the Shea Stadium performance is only average at best for The Clash, it would be a career high-water-mark for most other bands. When The Who took the Shea stage later that evening, they must’ve feared the show was already stolen.