All things considered, it has been a pretty good year for The Clash. Over a decade since the legendary punk band broke up, 1999 has seen the release of two albums bringing renewed attention to these irascible rock rebels. Burning London, a tribute album featuring an impressive array of famous Clash fans, came out this spring. Now, with the release of their first ever live album, From Here To Eternity, we are once again reminded why The Clash were once “the only band that really matters.”
From Here To Eternity is comprised of live performances spanning the band’s peak years from 1978 to 1982. The track list could easily be confused as an uninspired best of collection, with only “What’s My Name” and “City of the Dead” being somewhat unexpected inclusions. In this light, a surprising exclusion is “Rock the Casbah,” the band’s biggest commercial hit. However, the absence of this more-pop-than-punk radio hit will not upset those stalwart fans still angry at The Clash for “selling out” on Combat Rock—the 1982 album which spawned pop music’s only hit song about Arab oil sheiks.
Ironically, From Here To Eternity’s most powerful track is another song from that infamous album. The live version of “Straight To Hell” keeps all the emotional intensity of this politically poignant lament while amplifying the haunting, atmospheric tone of the original.
The only major disappointment of hearing live versions of these punk classics, is how closely they observe the album renditions. However, this disappointment is only a testimony to the incredible level of anger, emotion, energy and — to use the appropriate punk rock term — piss the band laid down in the recorded versions. And, after all, that is why we love The Clash.
Nonetheless, it is those songs that deviate most from the originals that shine on this compilation. “White Man In Hammer-smith Palais,” “Capital Radio,” “Train in Vain” and “The Magnificent Seven” would all fall into the extraordinary category. While none of these songs is anywhere near reinvented, they contain just enough improvisation to conjure up images of Mick Jones and Joe Strummer gesticulating in my head.
By far, the most satisfying track on the album is the reggae-infused “Armageddon Time.” The onstage collaboration with reggae singer Mickey Dread drives home the true level of skill and substance the band achieved. The Clash were much more than a look, a noise and a whole lot of piss. They possessed a level of musical talent that has yet to be challenged by any of their punk descendants.
One unusual, and occasionally amusing, feature of the album is the collection of fan comments included in the sleeve notes. Most of these anecdotes, recounting, for example, the unabashed energy of a particular concert, are more than a bit trite and vapid. Yes, the crowd was excited. Yes, the audience could sing along with the hits. Hell, it was a rock concert. What do you expect?
But one comment, from an individual identified only as Daniel, stood apart from the rest: “I am only 18. I have never seen The Clash but I would sell my grandmother to have seen them.” For those of us who can empathize with Daniel, this live album brings us one tiny step closer to that unattainable dream.