New York City
February 17th, 1979
By Tom Carson
In the two years since the release if their first album, the Clash have earned a following unlike almost any other in rock & roll. To their fans, they're not just the greatest rock & roll band in the world - they're the last hope, the only group that still seems to promise that rock & roll can make a difference. This is an almost impossible burden to put on anyone, but the crowd at the Palladium expected nothing less; they were on their feet before a single note was played.
Two hours later, they were still on their feet. Beginning with "I'm So Bored With the U.S.A." - half-challenge, half-joke, and a perfect opener for the debut American tour the band labeled Pearl Harbor '79 - the Clash unleashed one of the most staggering performances I've seen. It was music of heroic grandeur, epic sweep and visceral force; each song was faster and meaner than on record and had twice the impact.
The musicians' confidence was evident at every turn. Lead guitarist Mick Jones and bassist Paul Simonon leaped around as if no stage could hold them; Nicky Headon's drums cracked through the music with the authority of machine-gun fire. The group's perfect ensemble timing - the two guitars locking horns above the percussion; the way Jones' etheral, incantatory backup vocals filled the gaps in Joe Strummer's harsh leads - went beyond mere technical mastery; it was an audible symbols of the band's communal instinct.
As older songs like "White Riot" and "Complete Control" blended in faultessly with newer material from Give 'Em Enough Rope, one had the sense that a whole world was being unfolded - in this cse, a world in which war is the only condition and struggle the only escape. Strummer, his eyes alight and staring as he snarled and screamed his messafe, looked like a man who'd just seen evrything he loved destroyed - unsure whether to explode with rage or run for his life. But his extraordinarily expressive face conveyed as much wit as passion; his anger often slipped over the line into a wonderfully comic dismay.
Jones, swagering life a hussar, was hardly less impressive. He cheerfully introduced "Stay Free" as "the wimpoid ballad of the night," then belied those words with a howling, teeth-bared vocal, tossing off the final wish, "Stay free," into the maestrom of his own soaring solo and Strummer's crunching, martial rhythm guitar. It was an inspiring moment, and there were many like it. Listening to them, one not only believed in the world at war they sang about, but also wanted to enlist, on their side, on the spot. That night, the Clash were victorious, and, if only for a short while, so were we.
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Article contribution by Anthony Peters
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