The Clash at Shea: Queens Is Burning

You weren't there, and everyone who was was kind of a jerk

A quivering crack addict once told me that the Tompkins Square mural of Joe Strummer comes alive at night. He imparted this from beneath an upturned shopping cart, his eyes emulating the swabbed Technicolor splendor and see-for-miles snarl of that wall with such ferocity that I really couldn't doubt his assertion. Even though we were in Los Angeles.

If the Clash frontman does stir after-hours, Joe should start by terrorizing everyone who booed his band at Shea Stadium on October 13, 1982, the last of two support nights for the Who's "farewell" U.S. tour. As the legend goes, a sizable faction of Roger Daltrey sycophants merely jeered the punk legends while stamping their hops-soaked feet impatiently, but this is only fleetingly audible on Live at Shea Stadium, and only fuels the wrath that makes the show so visceral. Far more unhinged, and far more alive, than 1999's erratic concert comp From Here to Eternity, it documents a proud last stand before the Clash's merciless decline: Mick Jones's exit, Cut the Crap, etc.

So it's perfect, in a way, that they bombastically broadcast their PSAs in a gargantuan American baseball stadium and slag their audience every step of the way. ("Ask your dad," Strummer snarls repeatedly, apropos of nothing.) Light on earlier material, the night showcases both their best punk and reggae moments, with a wailing turn by Jones on "Police on My Back" (it's damn near virtuosic) and the vitriolic business-scolding rarity "Career Opportunities." It's a fiery, acerbic show—especially knowing that this is their last great moment, before the late-period pretension and eventual implosion. Mostly, though, Shea Stadium is thrilling because these men met the challenge when the rafters were falling around them and no one seemed to believe. That doesn't happen often. Ask the Mets.

 
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