Big Audio Dynamite, Roseland, 4-19-11
I completely admit: I paid $75 (that’s with all the fees) to see Mick Jones. I didn’t care what he was going to do, but at least (unlike with the Gorillaz) I knew and liked Big Audio Dynamite and I was tired of kicking myself for missing the Mescaleros when I could have seen them and figuring a Clash reunion would happen one day and then one December morning I get off the plane from Seattle and my phone buzzes nonstop for 15 minutes and that was the end of that.
So I paid $75 to see Mick Jones and was completely okay with that–except that BAD were utterly fantastic.
Roseland at 7:15 was empty. The rail in front of the speaker stack beckoned. I could have never survived an entire show even off to the side on the rail in Clash days, but I wasn’t the only gray haired old lady on the rail and the center, where the pit would be, was full of balding grey heads, some with their teenage kids, all of whom had the awkward BAD trucker cap (sold at the merch stand) perched on their head. I figured I would be safe, although I put my hair up and stashed my phone and my camera as though I was going into battle. Three songs in I realized it would be fine. (It was probably the most pleasant concert experience I have ever had at Roseland. Go figure.) People danced. No one moshed. No one was a jerk.
There was no opening band, just a DJ set for an hour. After a few songs, I commented: “This isn’t much of a DJ, this is my iPod.” “No, it’s not even your iPod, it’s the 1st Wave station on Sirius.” But it’s not like that was a bad thing, it was just that I expected to get some old compadre of Mick or Don who used to spin the wheels of steel up in Hunts Point back in the day.
BAD were onstage a few minutes after nine, Mick clad in a black suit and a white shirt, with a hat that wouldn’t be out of place in Southside Williamsburg. He knew it, too, because the first words out of his mouth were “Happy Passover,” and then he promptly broke out into giggles. Things I didn’t expect: Mick Jones to have a shit-eating grin on his face the whole time.
Other things I didn’t expect: how completely ROCKING the band would be. This band was solid. This band was rehearsed. This band was tight. There was no need to grant them an indulgence on the part of loyalty or nostalgia. By the time the set ended an hour and 20 minutes later, it was one of the quickest 80 minutes of music I have experienced in a long, long time. If you skipped the show because you thought it would cheapen your memories, bad call.
I didn’t watch the Coachella set because it was late and because I didn’t want to be totally spoiled for tonight. I think we got a better set, at least on paper – closer to the structure of their UK sets earlier this year. I appreciated the structure of the main set – we had “Medicine Show” and “BAD” and “Just Play Music” and “Come On Every Beat Box” and others, with your “Bottom Line,” “E=MC2″ and “Rush” at the end, like proper encores. Joe was invoked. Paul was mentioned. Mick talked and joked and smiled and smiled some more and hammed it up for the cameras. I confess I was looking for some of the old Mick gallop, there was a little bit still there and it came out towards the end and it was enough to spark the memories again. The encores were full on dancing, clapping, hands in the air, singing along, bouncing up and down. They screwed up a little bit into “E=MC2″ and Mick just laughed, stopped, waited for Don to rewind and then started over.
He sang well, he played guitar well (although you could tell how much more he relished having the Les Paul over the Tele, at the end when he picked it up for “Rush”, talking about bringing out the heavy metal), the rest of the band was spot on, happy, focused, more than competent. I never got to see B.A.D. because I was abroad during the time they actually toured the US in the 80s. I think they are better now in some ways, at least based on videos I’ve seen in the past.
I was way on overdrive for this show, couldn’t eat dinner, heart beating fast as I walked up Broadway towards the venue. The trip down memory lane with the pre-show DJ set didn’t help. But the avalanche of memories when Mick walked into the spotlight was unexpected. I have my Clash stories. I have told them. I didn’t realize how many others were still lurking in the corners of my brain. I tried once to explain to someone that the Clash taught me about history, the Clash taught me that there was more to reggae than Bob Marley, the Clash taught me to not be afraid of hip hop. That is a very brief and unworthy summary, but it is some of it. The first punk rock shirt I wore to high school was a Clash shirt. (And before you say “So what” that was the kind of thing that got you ‘accidentally’ shoved into a locker in 1980.)
This was a crowd in which people talked to each other, or at least more than they do these days, because everyone has a phone. But in the 80s you talked to people you met at shows because that was the only way you were ever going to meet more people who liked the same music that you did, unless you talked to someone in a record store or you saw someone wearing a shirt. No one asked you what message board you were on and how many posts you had. You introduced yourself by your name and where you were from and what bands you liked. I miss those days.
I’d like to see these gentlemen make more music, take this band to more than four shows in the US – although Roseland was nowhere near sold out, so part of me wonders who still cares? Who still remembers? Well, fuck it, I do, and that’s enough.
Shameless self-promotion about my novel coming out this summer