Epic Clash concert at Shea Stadium debuts on CDWritten by Joel Sensenig | Managing Editor | email@example.com
For about 50 minutes on the evening of Oct. 13, 1982, a punk band from England transformed a 50,000-seat baseball stadium into a cramped, sweaty and raucous rock club.
The Oct. 7 release of “The Clash: Live at Shea Stadium” marks a landmark U.S. performance in the career of one of rock ‘n’ roll’s true pioneers. It was also one of its last, as the politically rebellious band started to unravel in the months following the show.
Famed rock photographer Bob Gruen spoke to Toledo Free Press recently about the British band that inspired audiences to “Rock the Casbah,” even if they didn’t have an inkling as to what that meant. Gruen penned the liner notes for the “Shea Stadium” release and is responsible for the album’s artwork.
Gruen, who has photographed John Lennon, the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin and the Sex Pistols in his career, struck up a relationship with the band after meeting them in 1977 while working as a photographer with CREEM magazine.
“They were very powerful,” Gruen said in recalling what first drew him to The Clash in what would turn into a decades-long relationship. “The intensity, the power and the drive of their concert was really strong.”
Although they were opening for rock giants The Who on those rainy October nights in 1982, The Clash let it be known that the audience was there to see them that night, at least from 8 to 8:50 p.m.
In the Shea recording, band members address the more “unruly” members of the audience during “Police On My Back,” the second song of the 16-song, career-spanning set.
“Shhh — Will you stop talking in the back?” lead vocalist Joe Strummer instructed the audience. “It’s too loud. It’s putting us off the song here. Trying to concentrate so uh, stop yacking!”
Gruen said the exchange was typical of the band’s relationship with its fans.
“They never forgot what it was like to be fans themselves. I mean they never stopped being fans themselves; it wasn’t a matter of forgetting. They were fans,” he said.
Gruen believes the tour opening for The Who, playing in front of capacity crowds in large stadiums, had some unintended consequences for the band, which would begin to unravel the following year.
“The nearest fan was 50 feet away from the stage,” he recalled of the shows which came on the heels of the release of “Combat Rock,” the band’s most commercially successful album in the U.S. “The Clash were used to playing in smaller venues where the fans were right on the stage, literally came on the stage, diving — that kind of thing. They were used to being right there in the heat of the crowd. I think that they were very aware of the distance and that some of the fans way up there in the stadium in the bleachers were blocks away.”
Gruen thinks the epic scale of the shows simply started to wear on the band.
“There wasn’t really the kind of communication they were looking for. They were kind of playing to a wall of faces, anonymously. On the stadium tour with The Who, they started feeling a distance that they weren’t comfortable with.”
In the album’s liner notes, Gruen said he was surprised by the band’s breakup following the stadium shows, but he understood why it happened.
“They didn’t want to be so big that they couldn’t reach the people,” he wrote. “It’s great that we now have this album to remember the power and the intensity that was The Clash live.”
Gruen said, “I always said that if they had a reunion, I’d be in the front row.”