The New Essential Clash DVD, Revolution Rock
It’s unfortunate that there’s a DVD already out on the market called The Essential Clash, as the newest Clash DVD offering, Revolution Rock, stakes a serious claim for being their true essential video set, if one had to choose a single title. (Of course, Westway to the World and Rude Boy must be on the shelves of completists.) That “essential” 2003 release has some great footage and is worth owning if only for Joe’s Hell W10 short, but is at its core a compendium of pre-/early-MTV promo clips, a medium The Clash never really utilized (nor needed to). Revolution Rock is the purest video representation of the band in its natural habitat, ripping up their songs on stage with energy in front of rabid fans. The candid moments of the band interacting off stage are left at a minimum in this release, but those that are included are positively shiver inducing. It not so much a true documentary as it is a compilation of live clips. Every few songs, a British narrator pipes up with over the top radio jock excitement to deliver a few lines of commentary that all but the newest Clash fans will find cliché. (Typical line: “The combination of Joe Strummer’s protest anthems and pop sensibility of Jones gave the Clash a depth and a range that placed them alongside rock’s greatest groups…”) Thankfully, this audio track can be switched off so as to not interfere with the tunes.
Roughly sorted in order of their LP releases, these twenty-two live performances were filmed mostly at riotous gigs around England in the late 70’s, with a few early 80’s clips from NYC and Tokyo thrown in. Of particular note to Angelenos is footage of “Know Your Rights” taken from the 1983 US Festival, which took place in front of 60,000 on the San Bernardino site now known as Glen Helen Pavillion. (Their last full-band LA-area appearance ever?–Help me out here people.) For kicks, a few TV appearances are appended: Paul leads the lads on “Guns of Brixton” on ABC’s late sketch show Fridays and a couple of interview segments: one, a Tom Snyder show appearance that is more notable for the band’s lack of attention span and constant distraction with a stuffed animal, than anything actually said and, the other, a local NYC NBC news chat show with Joe and Paul, with a surprisingly understanding hostess.
From a technical standpoint, this is a solid release. Beyond offering huge value for the price of a CD, the DVD has to hold up the legacy of the band’s oeuvre, which it mostly does. (Personally, I would have dumped the cheesy “military” text graphics superimposed with each new song title, but that’s just me.) The Dolbyfied audio is excellent, especially considering the means used to record these live shows originally. I actually found this set to be a less fatiguing listen than From Here To Eternity live album, so the upcoming audio CD companion to the DVD is highly anticipated. The warm saturated 16mm stock works as a nice counterpoint to the sharp, often brutal attack of the songs. The film is matted out to 16×9, so we do lose some of the filmed image, but as the majority of it is shot handheld and in constant motion, it is not a big distraction. Hopefully when Blueray becomes more widespread, these kinds of releases will be left in the original ratio with the decision left to zoom in and crop the image left to the home viewer.
Watching this vintage footage, it is all too easy to fall into the trap of lamenting the lack of a “present day Clash,” feeling ripped off. What do we get? and so forth. I destroyed at least one Strokes CD immediately afterwards. [Which one(s)? –Ed.] Maybe about halfway through the second viewing and certainly by the third viewing, though, one arrives an acceptance that there just never will be another Clash. Never.
Tempting as it is, it would be an inaccurate to end with cliché of something akin to “this captures the band at the height of their powers” regarding this particular DVD, but that won’t fly here, as The Clash never really had a lull in their powers over the course of their existence. (Don’t even say Sandinista!) This DVD, then, captures The Clash as they always were–perfect.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to shave the sides of my head and hack the sleeves off this J. Crew oxford (Christmas gift).