The Clash — Live At Shea Stadium

Live At Shea Stadium

Part of The Clash’s appeal were the contradictions that lay at their core; contradictions that would both fire them with fuel and, in the end, consume them. By 1982, as Margaret Thatcher gave the nod to sink the Argentine cruiser General Belgrano with the cost of 368 lives, it appeared that The Clash were spending way too much time abroad and America in particular. For a generation born after the late 1950s, the Falklands conflict was their first taste of overseas military action yet the voices of dissent – or, more specifically, The Clash’s – were nowhere to be heard.

Or so it seemed to those with more parochial concerns. Earlier that year, The Clash had dropped the return-to-form that was Combat Rock, an album that not only widened the band’s musical palette but also their political world view that took in the global ramifications of the Vietnam War and a post-Nixon America. Yet wasn’t this the band that sang of their boredom with the world’s largest superstate?

More of The Clash’s contradictions are what make up this belated release of their appearances at New York’s Shea Stadium in October 1982. Listening to the band’s never-ending self-mythologizing in Don Letts’ biography Westway To The World, the casual viewer would be forgiven for believing that The Clash were headlining the famed baseball stadium a la The Beatles. The truth was that The Clash were guests of The Who, playing to another band’s crowd in the rain.

Unlike The Last Gang In Town’s previous live offering, From Here To Eternity, Live At Shea Stadium is a snapshot of a band doing their do at a single event rather than a collection of live cuts taken from the band’s career and frankly, is all the better for it. With their backs against the wall, this is a sound of group making the kind of gesture that was akin to the climactic finale of Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid; heartfelt, heroic and, with the band sacking guitarist Mick Jones a year later, ultimately futile.

Musically, The Clash are absolutely focused here though their nerves in front of a soaked crowd of 70,000 ensure that their set positively gallops and given the usual hitches attached to a gig of this size – sound problems, indifferent crowd and airplanes landing at La Guardia airport – the band acquits itself well. Despite the absence of the fired Topper Headon, their dips into funk and reggae – ‘The Magnificent Seven’ and ‘Armagideon Time’ – remain fun and convincing with only a lumpy ‘Rock The Casbah’ failing to pass muster.

The Clash were well aware of what was at stake that night and their drive to succeed in grabbing The Who’s baton is palpable as they tear through ‘Tommy Gun’ and ‘London Calling’. That they failed to do so is neither here nor there as ultimately it’s this impossible contradiction that so typifies The Clash and makes Live At Shea Stadium such a worthwhile artifact.

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