Sending for the Cavalry
Mark Cooper, Sounds, 1979
The Clash: Live At The Roxy, Los Angeles

A CLASH TREAT for their fans this, a five dollar ticket and a smaller setting than bands who've just appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone usually employ. In fact, a bonus, the Clash back in clubland in front of 700 people.

The band's last American tour is a month dead and it's hard at first to believe that the Clash are back in town. They're here to film four songs for a new prime time nationwide comedy show, Friday. The show is a copy of a successful format on another network and painfully unfunny. But prime time is prime time and the Clash are obviously determined to crack America on the double. Aside from the filming and rehearsing the Clash decide to put on this show to keep them in performing shape.

The Roxy, for all its intimacy, is not the best place to see the Clash. Even with all the chairs and tables removed, the club preserves its air of record company glamour and soft rock money. And then there's the audience, a few fans, a few punk diehards and the rest are poseurs, butterflies following the action wherever the action might be.

The LA Roxy is a long way from that other Roxy, now long gone, where the Clash began. The music has changed and so has the audience and overall it's just as well. The Clash have grown enormously as a band and their audience has increased as well, more as a result of the band's survival than its growth. But the very nature of the Clash's beginnings and their absolutist claims and their urgency make it inevitable that they should always be judged by those beginnings, much as Townshend is always judged by 'My Generation'. It's the price they pay for committing themselves to a particular moment. That's why throughout this gig there's a bunch over in one corner calling out for 'White Riot'. Nothing kills like purist beginnings and those beginnings are popular with a certain section of the Clash's audience in America simply because they seem to justify a certain kind of wanton violence.

The Clash are obviously aware of the dangers of being trapped by their past but either way they lose — either they betray their past or their past betrays them. To try and sidestep the whole dilemma, the Clash have begun to move into mythical territory, away from the moment and into the timeless and static area of rock and roll mythology, That's what 'Brand New Cadillac' and 'Jimmy Jazz' are all about, the Clash lecturing America on its own forgotten traditions. Tonight Strummer turns 'Jimmy Jazz' into Lenny Bruce and proceeds to deliver a lecture on the fate of that comedian who died persecuted of a heroin overdose.

The movement into the past is also a movement into an increasingly refined style, the snappy red shirts and braces, the new Clash sound in which the rhythm section leads, the heavy sound that's full of subtlety but satisfies the headbangers as well. If they're not careful, they'll wind up with 'Guns Of Brixton' as their most popular song.

Strummer's attempts to aid a roadie with a fainting fan somehow looks like fake populism in the context of this overfed Hollywood audience. It's perhaps because of this that the Clash never really connect tonight. There's an air of rehearsal about the whole affair and while the band run through a sampling of their career, from 'Janie Jones' to 'Clampdown', you find yourself waiting for the next song and for them to take off. They save the day with their routine cavalry charge ending, 'Tommy Gun' and 'London Calling' standing out and with Topper Headon superb throughout but they never quite seize the time. How could they with this kind of audience? And as anybody knows who’s seen the Clash there's a big difference between the Clash when they're inspired and when they're coasting.

© Mark Cooper, 1979