It’s hard enough to believe that D. Boon died 27 years ago today at the age of 27, but how the hell do you process that Joe Strummer died 10 years ago today — of a heart attack — at age 50??? I don’t know about you, but denial has worked pretty well for me. Like many, I remember the diplomat’s son, born John Graham Mellor, as the strident frontman of the best rock ‘n’ roll group of their era. The beauty of The Clash is that even if you didn’t understand a single word they were saying, you couldn’t deny the tenacity of their musical attack. Joe Strummer’s genius was not only framing his band’s musical simplicity against a backdrop of class war, he empowered that simplicity.
“We’re a garage band!
We come from garageland!”
There’s nothing inherently wrong with elaborate production, sophisticated arrangements, and global thematic concerns in music, but it’s a slippery slope into self-indulgent fuckshittery, and Sandinista is proof that even a band as mighty as The Clash was vulnerable to pop rot. However, when they were banging out three-chord songs in an actual (or metaphorical) garage, they were an unfuckupable force of nature.
This video captures the band in Tokyo on their Far East tour of January/February 1982. While I’d place The Clash’s peak firmly in the 1970s, this concert reveals that as a live unit, they were still clicking on all cylinders in the early ’80s, even as they were falling apart. Strummer shows why he was revered by generations of musicians/sentient beings, Mick Jones shows why he’s underrated as a lead guitarist, ditto Topper Headon on drums, and Paul Simonon on bass = cool ass motherfucker. Whatever may have been percolating behind the scenes, on stage The Clash looked like they could still summon the old fury.
Joe Strummer is dead! Long live Joe Strummer!
Nakano Sun Plaza, Tokyo, Japan
January 28, 1982
01 00:50 – London Calling
02 04:18 – Safe European Home/Rudie Can’t Fail
03 09:05 – (White Man) In Hammersmith Palais
04 13:50 – Brand New Cadillac [Vince Taylor]
05 16:05 – Charlie Don’t Surf
06 22:10 – Clampdown
07 26:50 – This Is Radio Clash
08 31:48 – Armagideon Time [Willi Williams]
09 36:59 – Jimmy Jazz
10 43:00 – Tommy Gun
11 46:50 – Fujiyama Mama [Wanda Jackson] (feat Pearl Harbor on lead vocals)
12 49:10 – Police On My Back [The Equals]
13 52:24 – White Riot