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Clash in NYC, Sept 1979: Gig “scrapbook”

Compiled by Paul Slade

Extract from Johnny Green’s
A Riot of Our Own (Indigo, 1997).
Green was the Clash’s minder, roadie and general factotum on the 1979 US tour. Years later, he wrote a memoir.

“The set [at the Civic Arena in Minneapolis on September 12] was OK, but the best sound was probably way up in the roof. ‘Good night’ echoed round the stadium. As the Clash bounced off stage, Strummer grabbed me: ‘The candelabra. Quick. Now’.”
“I knew what he meant. In the dressing room, he had spotted a huge candelabra. Liberace must have left it behind, with all twenty candles intact. I sprinted across, grabbed it and ran back to where the band were slugging a quick drink behind the stage. Joe said ‘Zippo’ and lit the candles. With the stage lights down, the band eased into the gloom, and started the chords of Armagideon Time. I guided Joe as he crept behind the drum riser, candelabra in hand. It looked loads better than a bunch of weedy lighters held above heads in a crowd.
“After the encore, Mick said, ‘That was brilliant, just brilliant – improvised theatre. Keep that. We’ll keep that in the set’. I put the candelabra straight in the flight case, but the manager copped me: ‘I’ll have that back’. Mick said, ‘Pay him. Buy it.’ And I pointed the manager to our man with the calculator.” (1)

1) By the time the Clash reached New York, the candelabra had been replaced by a flaming torch. Maybe the Minneapolis venue’s manager refused to sell it?

First night review by Andy Schwartz,
New York Rocker: November 1979.*

“This show, the first of two nights at the Palladium didn’t start [as a disappointment]. It couldn’t have – not with an opening volley of Safe European Hone, I’m So Bored With the USA and Complete Control. The sound was so strong, the sight so thrilling (the group’s new greaser/punk sartorial fusion is a classic) that I was yanked up and out of my seat, singing and hollering. And after that, things went slowly, inexorably downhill. I’d like to write it off as a bad night (the next one was reportedly very different and much better), but I fear the problems run deeper than that.” (1)

Schwartz goes on to cite Jones’ over-reliance of effects boxes and too much reggae as his main gripes.

“It [the reggae] still works on White Man in the Hammersmith Palais because the song makes real the inner conflict of a white boy in love with the myths of black music, running hard up against black reality. It worked on Paul Simonon’s solo song (which he may or may not have written), because the tune and the lyrics are catchy as hell, in the sing-song style of Uptown Top Ranking, and also because Paul cannot sing to save his skinny ass – thereby injecting a much-needed quotient of raw amateurism into the performance. (2)
“But Police & Thieves dragged on overtime, and one of the encores was a dull new song kicked off by some clumsy dub sounds from Paul and Topper Headon. The few lyrics I could catch made me not want to hear the ones I couldn’t: Something like ‘A whole lotta people going to have to run and hide tonight / A whole lotta people won’t get no justice tonight’. Joe Strummer’s commitment and concern are not a question – only his proven strength as a profound and poetic lyricist. Meanwhile, organist Micky Gallagher (from Dury’s blockheands with whom the Clash now share a manager) smoothed over most of the cutting edge. I like reggae – though mostly in singles-sized doses – and I don’t object to progress. I just don’t think the Clash play this stuff very well. (3)
“There were some great moments. Mick’s Stay Free was terrific, featuring perhaps his best extended break of the set, and Topper was stunning on almost everything, especially his thunderous roll into I Fought the Law. The guy is definitely one of the two or three best rock ‘n’ roll drummers in the world today. But after English Civil War, the energy flagged, guitars went out of tune and Joe gasped for breath. Another new song began with a chorus or two of Stagolee – the Clash sounded like a bad bar band – and Janie Jones was rushed, almost perfunctory. By the time they closed with White Riot, my girlfriend had fallen asleep and I was ready to go wander round St Mark’s Place in search of friends who might have seen the show and reassure me the Clash were still the world’s greatest rock ‘n’ roll band. Instead, I found Dimitri Papadopolous, fellow rock scribe turned hard-hitting drummer, who told me, ‘Face it man, they stunk.’ I didn’t want to agree with him, but…
“At least you got a lot of music for your money. First up were the Undertones, and though I don’t know how much impact they made on the rest of the Clash tour, I thought they were a gas. OK, so the group could never have existed had the Ramones not gotten there first, but they’ve still got great songs like Teenage Kicks, Jimmy Jimmy, Male Model and a new one called (I think) My Cousin (‘what I like to do he doesn’t’). Fergal Sharkey’s whole body shakes when he sings, and the band bangs away enthusiastically behind him. All stage clothes are strictly from Sears Roebuck and the encore was Gary Glitter’s Rock ‘n’ Roll part 2. Good band – get the album when it appears here on Sire.
“Also appearing were Sam & Dave. If ‘60s soul music played for late-‘70s white rock audiences is the modern equivalent of Son House and Mississippi John Hurt being trotted out of obscurity for the enlightenment of early ‘60s white folk audiences, at least these guys cared enough to put together a great band (including five horns) and really work the crowd. Time has slightly diminished their vocal powers (Dave Prater more than Sam Moore) but at their high-energy best – You Don’t Know Like I Know, You Got Me Humming, Soul Man – I never really noticed. The set was also a little heavy on audience participation: ‘the P-Funk chant of ‘shit, goddamn, get off your ass and jam’, the sing-alongs, the mugging and jiving with a couple of girls from the audience. With a fourteen track Best Of.. album like Sam & Dave’s (on Stax/Atlantic), who needs this kind of padding?”

* All the starred reviews here are sourced from There’s a wealth of Clash material there for anyone who cares to dive in.

1) Every account I’ve read of these gigs agrees the second night was better than the first. My own immediate reaction in the diary was that the Clash were “good but not great” on the 20th and “rather better” on the 21st.

2) Throughout this whole review, Schwartz can’t quite make up his mind whether the Clash were too professional or not professional enough. That’s precisely the bind the band found itself in at this time, with their punk integrity and their musical ambition pulling in two opposite directions.

3) That’s the
Armagideon Time encore he’s talking about there, of course. I love that song, so I’m biased, but it’s not the only evidence here that Schwartz’s judgement on reggae is pretty suspect.

First night thoughts from Paul Simonon,

“We were used to getting a very exciting response from our audiences, jumping around and dancing. The Palladium had fixed seating, so the audience was frozen in place, and we weren’t getting any response from them, no matter what we did. I’m generally good-natured, but I do bottle things up, and then I’m like a light switch, off and on, and it can be quite scary, even for me, when I switch, because it’s very sudden. On stage that night, I just got so frustrated with that crowd and when it got to breaking point I started to chop the stage up with the guitar. (1)
“We used to get cheap Fenders from CBS, they were newer models, quite light and insubstantial. But the one I smashed that night was a great bass, a Fender Precision: about £160, so I did regret breaking it. In fact, I gathered up all the pieces and kept them.”

1) There’s an intriguing moment on the second-night bootleg when Strummer gives a very intense stage whisper into the microphone: “Control your temper”. I’ve got no memory of that from the night, and you can’t tell who it’s directed at from an audio recording alone, but maybe he thought Simonon was about to go off on one again?

First night thoughts from Pennie Smith,

“Smith is adamant that [Simonon’s] eruption was not staged for the camera. ‘It was one of his favourite guitars, not some cheap one chosen to smash up, so he must have been really angry about something. I was very close to him, using a wide-angle lens. He was almost three feet away and heading in my direction, so I was backing off. It all went slightly in slow motion, and I was thinking things like, ‘Have I pissed him off by being on this side of the stage?’ But I didn’t feel in any danger.’
“Tactfully, Smith avoided the dressing room in the immediate aftermath of the outburst, but says, ‘Years later I asked him what was wrong, and he said he hadn’t been happy with the sound’.”

First night thoughts from Johnny Green’s
A Riot of Our Own (Indigo, 1997).

“Joe sang Garageland – ‘I don’t give a flying fuck what the rich are doing’ – while I stood next to Debbie Harry at the side of the stage. I saw Bianca Jagger dancing on the opposite side. I hared round behind the backdrop and told her to get off. I didn’t like any clique getting on-stage, but the combination of the song words and the rich woman hit me.
“I looked back on-stage to see Simonon clutch his bass by the neck and start smashing it on the floor like he was chopping wood. I ran on stage. ‘What are you doing?’ It was so unlike him. He said, calmly, ‘Fuck off, Johnny, I know what I’m doing.’ And his eyes were composed.
“Paul had kept this card up his sleeve for New York – Debbie’s home town. She was impressed. When I went to call them back for the encore Paul grinned as I handed him a towel. ‘Got a spare bass, Johnny?” (1)

1) Simonon’s girlfriend then was a New York model called Debbie. It’s her Green claims he was trying to impress, not Debbie Harry.

Both nights review by Mary Harron,
Melody Maker: October 6, 1979.*

“The Palladium is an old converted theatre; in commercial terms, it stands half way between the Mudd Club and Madison Square Garden. It’s as ornate as London’s Lyceum, but even sleazier. Every Saturday night, the 14th Street pushers move from their usual pitch in front of the Disco Donut shop to outside the theatre doors, waiting to sell downers and questionable marijuana to the teenagers who flock in from the suburbs.
“New York audiences are notoriously reserved, with the result that the Undertones almost stole the show on Thursday night and didn’t realise it. Reported to be depressed by their performance on Friday, they shouted from the stage, ‘What is this, a funeral or something?’, and didn’t come back for the encore they clearly deserved. Sam and Dave, who danced, sweated and crooned in a splendidly over-the top-performance, near-missed on the first night but hit on the second, with the audience dancing on the stage.
“But it was the Clash’s event, and even if they suffered from nerves or tiredness on Thursday, they had the singular achievement of keeping a Palladium audience on their feet throughout the show. Friday night was stunning for its concentration, energy and high-spirited attack. Whatever they were in the beginning, they now embody a modern version of fifties rock ‘n’ roll glamour. For many of the audience, they are simply a new kind of rock star.
“Backstage the security forces were guarding the door as if they [the Clash] were Kiss – no reflection on the group, just house policy. ‘Youse can’t come in here, understand – SO GET DOWN THOSE FUCKING STAIRS’ one of them shouted at Johnny Ramone, who curled up shyly in the doorway, like a fern.”

Second night review by Van Gosse,
Melody Maker: September 29, 1979.*

“First time here, in February, the Clash were merely grand. The energy was awesome, but the music was more volume than anything; in the end it was just enervating. This time round the band is tighter, fiercer and the dynamics are much more varied. Best of all, six of the 22 songs are new and these, all reggae-based, were more powerful and musically interesting than anything the Clash had yet done, eclipsing the redundancies of the last album.
“The first three songs – Safe European Home, I’m So Bored With the USA and Complete Control – seemed to be just the old sturm and drang. Then came something new, to do with ‘pseudo-Beatlemania’. After Strummer waved a local tabloid, proclaiming a spurious Fab Four reunion, and followed it with White Man, yet another great new one, and I Fought The Law. (1)
The show never faltered from this point – the band had its bag of tricks ready. Half way through the set, Simonon switched instruments with Strummer and earnestly sang his own song, a chunky reggae-rocker about some Johnny who gets shot. His voice is ordinary enough, but seeing the usually hard-faced bassist open up was quite a thrill. Mick Jones topped it off by donning an acoustic guitar for English Civil War. Next, on Clash City Rockers, Blockhead Micky Gallagher joined in on organ and stayed for the rest of the evening.
An anguished and violent Police & Thieves peaked the show; at the end, Strummer stared wide-eyed at the audience. ‘You should hear Junior Murvin sing that song,’ he rasped. ‘The way he sings it, it’s up there.’ He pointed to the fading dome of the Palladium, a hundred feet above his head.
After that, Strummer seemed possessed, bent on making the crowd understand something, trying to break through every way he could - screaming, whistling, going into the front rows, scaling the amps – and finally, on the encore, he found his moment. Simenon and Headon began an echoed dub vamp, with only a blue spotlight shining up from behind and below the drum platform. Strummer waited, and then came out, grinning, from backstage, holding aloft a torch. He got up behind the drums and raised both arms, silhouetted by the spot and waving his arms like a maddened Statue of Liberty. The crowd roared at him. He made his way to the mike, gaunt and fevered like some Hamlet from the graves, and quietly began to sing one of the new ones: ‘A lot of people are going to get it…’
“The lights went deep red and the band hit Career Opportunities and What’s My Name. Then they were gone.”

1) Half the fun of these reviews now lies in watching the writers struggle to guess the names of all those unfamiliar numbers. This underlines just how new London Calling’s songs were at the time.

Second night thoughts from Ray Lowry,
NME: October 6, 1979.

Second night review by Ira Robbins,
Trouser Press: date unknown.*

“One thing for certain about a Clash concert – there’s no chance of it being slick or standard. […] Primed for action by the amazing Undertones, the Clash ran breakneck through a mixture of old and new songs (four of which are unrecorded). Standouts were an awesome I Fought the Law, a lengthy Police & Thieves and a befuddled Jail Guitar Doors.
“Strummer’s vocals were harsh and strained, but insistent throughout. Mick Jones’ guitar playing, despite effects boxes that blurred its tone, came on like a supercharged sawblade. Both exuded easy confidence, working without the self-conscious nervousness that marred the Clash’s first New York date earlier this year. Paul Simenon is the same bassist he’s always been, but now he sings lead on one of the new tunes. Drummer Topper Headon gets stronger by the minute.
“The set contained a pile of surprises. Blockhead Micky Gallagher’s appearance on keyboards added a lot more sound to the blend, but fit in well. The assortment of guitars used by Jones (prompting a quip about Rick Nielsen) included an acoustic for English Civil War and an old hollow body electric for Stay Free. (1)
“All in all, this sloppy mess of a wonderful show proved the Clash can be both fun and exciting. They have maintained their unique ethics while adopting enough conventional technique to make a concert fully satisfying, for critics and paying customers alike.”

1) Nielsen was guitarist with Cheap Trick. Everyone in the Clash seemed self-conscious about their growing professionalism at both these gigs, leading Jones to mock himself as he prepared to play Clampdown: “All these guitar swaps, you know… But it’s not as many as Rick Nielsen had.”

Second night thoughts from WNEW FM’s
thoroughly uncomfortable DJ.
New York’s WNEW FM was broadcasting the Clash’s second Palladium night live, and had their own DJ backstage to bookend the broadcast. I’ve transcribed his rather nervous blather from a bootleg CD.

As the Clash are about to go on:
“You can look forward to a good hour or so of real strong rock ‘n’ roll. I know the word new wave comes to mind when you talk about the Clash, they certainly are a political band, yet they’ve recorded I Fought the Law, the old Bobby Fuller Four song, which has occupied the Top Ten in England now for the last couple of months. It seems to be a pretty popular song. (1)
“The Clash have just Clashed by me as a matter of fact (nervous laugh). It’s loud, it’s loud music, it is rude, it is crude but it’s great rock ‘n’ roll, and I know you’re going to enjoy it. So we’ll turn it over to the stage now, where they have their own DJ, they’re not using any of us, they have their own DJ, who’s going to introduce one of the finest bands in England today - the Clash. (2)
“Right here on WNEW FM in New York live from the Palladium, used to be the old Academy of Music down here on 14th Street. As I mentioned, the Clash did play last night, and they’re playing tonight – two-night gig. And, as you can hear in the background, Frank Sinatra, of all people, singing High Hopes. Maybe later on, we can get some kind of explanation as to why High Hopes opens Clash concerts (another nervous laugh). Let’s go to the stage right now – you can hear the band tuning up. Live music – the Clash.” (3)

In the break between White Man in the Hammersmith Palais and Koka Kola, Strummer takes a moment on stage to announce: “This is a word from our sponsors. A word from our sponsors and station identification. This is radio W.S.H.I.T coming from New York City!”

Before the encore.
“Live from The Palladium, the Clash, on WNEW FM in New York. Those are the proper call letters, although the Clash have been giving us (nervous laugh) a, a different title tonight. That’s what it in actuality is.”

As the Clash stream off stage:
“And as the drumsticks go hurtling out into the crowd, the Clash, live from the Palladium, WNEW FM, New York.” (At this point we hear Mick Jones brushing by, loudly remarking “Bollocks, you cunt!” to the DJ as he passes.) “ALL-right. (more nervous laughter). You heard ‘em go by. That was quite a show, quite a show. You heard about 80 minutes of music there, I hope you enjoyed it.”

1) His main concern here seems to be reassuring WNEW listeners that the Clash are a successful British chart act – not the barbarian invaders they may have been led to expect. In fact, I Fought The Law got no higher than 29 in the UK charts and stayed in the Top 50 for only five weeks.

2) Ray Lowry’s inner sleeve for
London Calling credits “Britain’s No. 1 Deejay – Birry Myers”. I assume he must have been the Clash’s man in New York.

3) The Clash were clearly taking a little longer to get started than our hero had expected here. With the broadcaster’s usual terror of dead air, he’s desperately trying to fill. To my mind,
High Hopes is a perfect song to introduce an ambitious band like the Clash as they set about breaking America: “We’ve got high apple-pie in the sky hopes.”

Second night thoughts from Clash fan Gregory Daurer,

“A little ragged at first, the band heated up and then provided a pressure cooker performance. It’s the concert which implanted ‘revolution rock’ onto my neurons. (It also probably damaged some of my hearing early on, as I stood on the arm-rests of a seat near the front of the stage in front of a massive bank of speakers, howling at the music and snapping photographs.
“Although I eventually saw the Clash again with the same line-up at Red Rocks here in Colorado in the summer of ’82 on their Combat Rock tour, this night still remains the ultimate performance by the band for me. It’s not only the concert by which I judge the second and third times I saw the group, it’s probably the concert by which I judge all other concerts that I’ve seen since.”

Paul Morley, NME: October 20, 1979

Morley also accompanied the band on this tour. He built his own articles round interviews rather than gig reports, but caught the band’s importance and appeal well in this par:

“A Clash show, good or bad or thrilling, illustrates the maturity and discrimination of their rock perspective, unique amongst their contemporaries, and their determination to convince, which sets them amongst the greats. They understand the economy and tone of the ‘50s, are suckers for the flash of the ‘60s and early ‘70s, invented the direction of punk, can handle the slip and slide and feel of reggae, and they know how important it is to look good and move good.”