What should we expect from a live recording of a band within a year of its own demise, a band who had recently dismissed its heroin addicted drummer and was already splitting apart at the seams in the wake of its own internal turmoil? Will it show the band burning out or fading away? With Live at Shea, we get neither. Instead it finds the Clash in their prime, a prime that lasted their entire career from its earliest rumblings out of the ashes of the 101ers to the near bitter end preserved here.
Many of the songs find new interpretations in the live setting, particularly those drawn from London Calling and later. “Guns of Brixton” is faster, finding a new groove, while “London Calling” is rawer and even more urgent. Perhaps none of the songs finds itself better live than “Rock the Casbah” where the band disposes of the song’s novelty elements and instead rip it up with the ferocity it deserves. The transition from funk to reggae and back as they move from “Magnificent Seven” to “Armigideon Time” and then return is one of the most powerful messages of the unity of struggle throughout the world perhaps ever recorded. The fact that earlier material like “Tommy Gun” and “Career Opportunities” fall into place more easily doesn’t diminish their impact though. The Clash find the heart of all their songs and bring their own class war to a crowd that was probably not even on the same side. Still, they resonated, because a band like the Clash is almost impossible to dismiss.
It seems hard to believe that a performance like this came so near the end of the road. It may seem like an early curtain call for one of rock’s greatest bands, but Strummer and Simonen would prove it to be perfect timing when they formed their own farcical version of the Clash for 1985’s Cut the Crap. But here, three years earlier, it was a different story. The Clash not only show that they were the only band that mattered, but more importantly that they mattered right up to the end.