What’s it say about the legacy of The Clash that a truncated version of Revolution Rock was broadcast on public television prior to the release of the DVD? Somehow it makes the English quartet seem less insidious in their influence than they would want their legacy to be.
But this collection of two dozen performance clips, both live and seemingly overdubbed performances from 1977 through 1982, appears in the guise of a documentary (as the credits read) that in turn seems like nothing so much as revisionism. Certainly if you turn on the narration, the breathless tone of Zane Lowe makes the succession of videos, purporting to present a history of The Clash, sound like an electronic press kit. Why else would the documentation of The Clash of 1982 at Shea Stadium, overlook the crucial fact the band were actually opening for The Who?
There’s no denying, however, that at their best, as on “Safe European Home,” The Clash had the makings of a truly exciting rock and roll band. Yet as the quartet progressed, their inclination to forge an image moved them to overlay what’s otherwise mere craft such as “I Fought the Law,” with a contrived outlaw imag.
The Clash’s embrace of reggae as on “Police and Thieves” sounds more authentic enough but that’s mostly due to the depth of commitment invested in the song and its performance by frontman Joe Strummer. His skeptical recognition of the camera is in contrast to the self-consciousness of guitarist Mick Jones and to see Strummer at center stage, with the great Topper Headon directly behind him, is to witness where the heart of this band truly resides.
Consequently, it’s not coincidental that the abbreviated interviews present as the bonus features on the DVD provide a stark contrast to the stylized likes of stage set such as the one used for “1977” (and is the band miming to a pre-recorded audio track here?). There’s an earnest streak evinced, again, not surprisingly, by Joe Strummer, in regards to the ideas within The Clash’s music. A somewhat forced jocularity intrudes on the foursome’s conversation with Tom Snyder, but even in a more superficial setting of an NBC New York studio, Strummer comes across serious and credible in answering the alternately fawning and semi-ignorant.
Those sequences give the lie to the transparency of so many of the performances contained on The Clash Live: Revolution Rock that, if you watch the interviews at the end of the string of videos, you’re almost prompted to go back through those to see what you might’ve missed.