London Calling: Chuck Prophet’s Spanish Bombs at the Great American Music Hall, 1/29/11
January 31, 2011
Written by M B L
I was 13 when my 20-year-old brother saw The Clash without me. Heartbroken, I drank enough vodka to puke in grandma’s bed and pass out on the floor. I awoke at the local hospital with an IV in my arm, my pale mother and smirking brother at the bedside. It reminded me of M*A*S*H. It was the last chance to see The Clash before self-destruction — drummer Topper Headon was going on a major heroin bender, and within a year Mick Jones would split for General Public and Big Audio Dynamite.
London Calling came out in 1979. The double album was a major departure from the first 2 recordings (self-titled in ’77 and Give ‘em Enough Rope in ’78). It still had plenty of amazing punk rockers but it also stewed up ska, reggae and rockabilly. It somehow brought together disparate tales of the Spanish War in the late ’30s (“Spanish Bombs”) alongside stories of the drug addicted, ’50s-Hollywood megastar Montgomery Clift (“The Right Profile”). It was at once political and revolutionary, been called one of the greatest of all records, and at the time The Clash were often labeled ‘The Only Band that Matters’. I loved that t-shirt and couldn’t agree more. If you are unfamiliar with this work please stop reading and go directly to your local record store. Bring it home, pull the shades and play it loud. Wear comfortable clothing. It matures with age but is eye opening from the first spine-tingling chords of the title track, which approaches issues like the 3-Mile Island nuclear disaster that had just occurred in Pennsylvania, but goes on to attack unemployment, racial injustice and drug abuse. It’s quite an opener.
Local treasure Chuck Prophet released his first record in 1990 with the Green on Red. He has released at least 11 solo records since then and collaborated with many great artists including: Alejandro Escovedo, Kelly Willis, Aimee Mann, Warren Zevon, Cake, Jim Dickinson and most recently Chris Von Schneidern for this current project. Chuck remembers buying London Calling on cassette at Rasputin Records in Pleasant Hill and considers it the “Rosetta Stone of the punk apocalypse” (via SF Chronicle).
The record was played to perfection from beginning to end including the ‘surprise track’ at the very end, “Train in Vain”, the first Clash song to hit the top 30 in the US. Many songs were played straight and true (a fantastic “Hateful”). Others were Chuck-a-tized (a jazzier, more spoken “Guns of Brixton”). The sold out crowd of middle agers seemed to enjoy every minute, but only “Koka Kola” and “Revolution Rock” resulted in frantic moshing. The single encore, appropriately enough, was “Bankrobber,” a song that appeared on the very next release, Black Market Clash. The last great Clash record, Sandanista!, a triple LP magnum opus was released in 1980.
How to open such a show? With the Specials 1979 self-titled debut of course! Local band Titan Ups didn’t miss any notes (or between song banter) of the complicated ska masterpiece while sporting 2 keyboards, 2 trombones, 3 guitars, bass and drums.
There must be caution with tribute shows, but this one did it right and suggests that if anything, we could use more tribute shows around these parts. Any requests?