This concert album shows The Clash at the peak of their powers as live performers. Unlike 1999′s From Here To Eternity: Live, which was a compilation of different gigs, Live At Shea Stadium captures the band on one particular occasion: 13 October 1982, when they were opening for The Who‘s farewell tour of the States.
Retrospectively, the album has a slightly elegiac quality as it records The Clash just before they fell apart. Playing soon after the release of their fifth album Combat Rock – the last on which lead singer Joe Strummer, lead guitarist Mick Jones, bassist Paul Simonon and drummer Topper Headon all featured – Headon had already been replaced by the band’s original drummer Terry Chimes and Jones would be thrown out the following year. This is not a greatest hits parade but it’s a good overview of The Clash’s career as it includes songs from every period.
After Kosmo Vinyl, the band’s road manager and concert producer, has introduced them on stage by whipping up the audience with his cockney patter, “We ain’t got no baseball tonight – but will you welcome all the way from London…”, the band go straight into London Calling, the apocalyptic title track of their classic double album, which is the one most heavily represented here.
During Police on My Back (from their overrated triple album Sandinista!), Strummer berates people at the back for “yapping” and “putting us off the song” but usually the band are content to let the music do the speaking for them. Everyone is in fine form, playing in unison with no sign of the divisions which would soon split them up.
Simonon takes lead vocals for his own song Guns Of Brixton, with pumping bass upfront on this brooding reggae account of Brixton discontent which foreshadowed the 1981 riots. The aggressive punk of Tommy Gun (taken from second album Give ‘Em Enough Rope), with its repeated rat-a-tat bullet-fire tattoo on the drums, evokes a similarly violent mood.
There’s a change of tack with The Magnificent Seven, a funky critique of American-style consumerism, which segues into the dub reggae of Armagideon Time, which in turn slides smoothly into a reprise of The Magnificent Seven – a tasty sandwich at the heart of the album. Still in dance mode is the Arabic-flavoured Rock The Casbah, a Top 10 hit Stateside that goes down a storm with the audience.
After a rare love song, Train In Vain, comes Career Opportunities, a return to the first album for a dose of angry political punk for which The Clash became best known. Spanish Bombs, is a rousing commemoration of Republicans fighting in the Spanish Civil War, while the anti-capitalist Clampdown hits home hard.
“Here’s a song your granddaddy would know” is how Strummer introduces English Civil War, The Clash’s own punky version of the American Civil War song When Johnny Comes Marching Home, with its updated anti-war lyrics. A storming performance of Should I Stay or Should I Go?, ignited by the famous opening guitar chords, sees Mick Jones singing about an explosive relationship. And their pulsating cover of Sonny Curtis And The Crickets‘ I Fought The Law, which gave The Clash their first real airplay in the USA, seems a fitting way to end the set.
The New York Mets may have just played their last baseball game at the Shea before the stadium is demolished, but this album is a stirring testament to a rock venue that began with The Beatles concert in 1965. It is, more importantly, a fine record of a dynamic live performance by a hugely influential band who transcended their punk origins.