[Editor's note: Over the holiday season, SonicNet is looking back at 1999's top stories, chosen by our editors and writers. This story originally ran on Wednesday, June 30.]
WASHINGTON, D.C. London came calling again Tuesday night
as ex-Clash singer/guitarist Joe Strummer kicked off his first U.S. tour
in 10 years with an impassioned performance of Clash classics and tunes
from his upcoming second solo album.
A sold-out crowd of colorful young punks and graying elder punks was
equally enthusiastic about new material from Strummer's X-Ray Style
and Clash tunes such as "London Calling" (RealAudio
excerpt), as revived by Strummer and his band, the Mescaleros.
"This is as close to the Clash as I'm ever going to get," 18-year-old
Kandi Walker of Bethesda, Md., said. "I was too young to see them back
in the early '80s, so this is my chance to see Joe in action."
The Clash, one of the original wave of British punk bands and one of the
most influential, broke up in 1986, after releasing the poorly received
Cut the Crap a year earlier. Strummer (born John Graham Mellor)
has since done some movie scoring, played briefly with the folk-punk
band the Pogues and released a solo album, Earthquake Weather, in
1989. He has been quiet for much of the '90s, partly because of a
contract dispute with Sony Music.
The dispute has been settled, and the 46-year-old rocker is slated to
release X-Ray Style on Hellcat/Epitaph Records in the fall.
"Heyyy ... Washington, D.C.," Strummer said as he strolled up to the
mic shortly after 10 p.m., in black jeans and a black T-shirt, his cowboy
swagger and jet-black hair and sideburns unchanged from his Clash days.
"This is the home of Bo Diddley. We're gonna go check out his home where
he grew up, if we can find it."
Actually, Diddley, the rock pioneer who opened several U.S. shows for
the Clash in 1979, was born in Mississippi and grew up in Chicago. But
if Strummer didn't quite have his geography straight, he seemed to still
have his punk-rock mojo in order.
Stomping his black work boots and counting off the beat, he strapped on
his guitar and jumped straight into a new song, "Diggin' the New," which
showcased the Mescaleros' pronounced enthusiasm. Strummer's voice, though
a little rougher for the wear, still pierced the air with its trademark
shrieks and howls. His hands moved often to his face, fingers outstretched
and grabbing his skull as if he had been hit in the forehead with a
In all, he played nine songs from the Clash catalog including
such classics as "White Man in Hammersmith Palais" and songs the
Clash covered, including Vince Taylor's "Brand New Cadillac" and the
Bobby Fuller Four's "I Fought the Law" as well as five new tunes.
Fans rushed the stage as the first few power chords to "London Calling"
blared from the amplifiers. "I've waited 15 years to hear this live,"
one older fan shouted to the amused teenager at his side.
The Mescaleros guitarist Martin Slattery (ex-Black Grape), bassist
Scott Shields, keyboardist Anthony Genn, drummer Smiley and percussionist
Pablo Cook took to such old Clash favorites as "Straight to Hell"
and "Bankrobber" as if they were their own. "Tommy Gun" was a barrage of
noise and feedback harking back to punk days of yore.
Cook even stood up on his bongos at one point and dove onto the stage,
crashing into the rest of the band, adding a sense of the chaos the Clash
brought to British nightclubs in the 1970s. The only disappointment for
fans was that the Mescaleros' rendition of the Clash's biggest pop hit, 1982's "Rock the Casbah" (RealAudio
excerpt of Clash version), didn't quite capture the original's
fusion of punk and disco.
The Mescaleros, all young British lads who were probably in grade school
when the Clash broke up in 1986, seemed to shine brightest on songs from
Strummer's forthcoming album. "Tony Adams," which is "about an obscure
soccer player from England," Strummer explained, the upcoming single
"Yalla-Yalla" and the title cut, with its slow, passionate rhythms and
bombastic bongo playing, all were warmly received.
After ending the hour-and-a-half set with "I Fought the Law" and "Brand
New Cadillac," Strummer returned by himself for the first of two encores,
playing an acoustic rendition of "Junco Partner" a traditional
song the Clash recorded for Sandinista (1980) before being
rejoined by the band for the new "Techno D-Day" and finishing off the
night with "Bankrobber."
"The Clash influenced everyone," Mark Moore, 32, said after the show.
"They weren't just punk. They were blues and jazz and reggae and country,
all types of sounds rolled into one ... I just can't believe we were
able to hear some of the old songs tonight."
"I sell lots of old Clash albums to kids wanting to start up a band,"
Moore said. "They ask me, 'Where should I start?' and I hand them a copy
of London Calling. 'It's all right there, kid.' "
While Strummer's former bandmates Mick Jones and Paul Simonon are
gathering tapes for an upcoming Clash live album, there is no talk of a
Clash reunion. Strummer is scheduled to play in New York on Wednesday
night (June 30) and wrap up the tour next week in Los Angeles.