"10th Anniversary Tribute Show To Joe Strummer"
Chris von Sneidern
Saturday, Aug. 25, 2012
Better than: Hearing Maroon 5 attempt "Should I Stay or Should I Go."
Several men clad in sleeveless denim vests pack a dimly lit club on Saturday night. On stage, a slew of punks belt out genre anthems to a crowd ready to shout much of it right back at them. Pints are in hand, accents in full effect. If this was the early '90s, maybe this scene would involve The Pogues. And perhaps that's the highest compliment you can pay this year's 10th Anniversary Tribute Show for the late, great Joe Strummer.
Strummer was the co-founder, lyricist, vocalist and rhythm guitarist of iconic UK punk outfit The Clash. He later had stints with The Pogues, The Mescaleros, and as a solo artist, but it's his run with The Clash for which he's most remembered. Strummer tragically died from a heart defect in December of 2002, so his music lives on largely through events like this: bands gathering together to do their best impressions.
Now, despite a night packed with covers, the evening by no means could replicate a Strummer performance. Instead, it felt more like a local Karaoke night than a concert at times. The first five feet in front of the stage remained oddly empty for at least half the night, until a bachelorette party decided to claim what would've been mosh-pit territory. Individuals unapologetically wore band t-shirts (in this case The Clash, Strummerville, The Pogues, Strummer and Mescaleros, etc.) but it was encouraged, not looked at with disdain.
The tendencies on stage emphasized that this was an evening of Strummer Karaoke. Every band besides Chris von Sneidern allowed multiple members to assume the role of Strummer for a full song, and that gave the crowd just as many takes on an English accent (though, yes, the lead singer of The Hooks is a proper Irishman, and his felt the closest).
Individual hits were subtly repeated through the night: Both The Hooks and Eastern Span gave "Janie Jones" a spin, Eastern Span and von Sneidern did "Spanish Bombs" in back-to-back sets. The Interchords joked they'd take requests. And the stage floor was littered with lyric sheets and chord progressions, with some individuals opting for the more blatant music stand approach. Even with the aid, lyrics were missed, some when audience members were clearly shouting them in unison. Most notably, Eastern Span's second guitarist responded to the entire venue's chants of "LONDON CALLING," with "the second verse, I fucked it up." Undoubtedly punk but, c'mon, "The zombies are dead..."
None of that necessarily speaks to the quality of the acts -- von Sneidern showcased the quirky charm that keeps him an under-the-radar favorite, The Hooks and Eastern Span each brought true punk pace to the evening. And whatever small nitpicks could be made, no one in attendance seemed to care. After all, no one came to see The Clash or The Pogues, everyone just wanted to celebrate Strummer. And these bands, despite the challenge of deviating from their regular catalog, delivered that.
The night wasn't about any singular act, and accordingly, each band embodied one aspect of Strummer's career best. Interchords were the most loyal to arrangements, particularly handling the levels brilliantly during "Rock The Casbah." Eastern Span brought the most punk ethos. Von Sneidern most looked the part, while The Hooks most sounded it. Combined, they spanned Strummer's career and gave fans the chance to hear nearly all their favorite tracks live: "Train in Vain," "Capital Radio," "Career Opportunities," and plenty more.
The high point of the night came from the least featured member of the evening's bill. DJ Jesse Luscious spent most of the evening in the back quietly spinning Strummer tunes between acts (a vital role because set times were divided more than usual for raffles and comments from the evening's organizers). But Eastern Span invited him, dressed in a soccer kit, up to the stage toward the end of their set. The initial riffs of "White Riot" kicked in immediately, a bit faster than recorded tempo even, and Luscious started prancing around the stage as if he owned it. He harpooned the microphone into the crowd, leaned in himself multiple times, and encouraged a blistering two minutes of communal shouting in the venue. After, he simply waved and went right back to the DJ station.
It was the most proper tribute on a night filled with many of them. And based on the energy of the evening, it's a practice that will continue for years to come. R.I.P Joe Strummer, until next year.
A concert first: No more than three songs into the first set of the night, Interchords needed an extended break between songs. A guitarist and keyboard player darted back to the drummer. "You've been to thousands of shows and probably have never been present for a bass drum head breaking. Don't tell The Hooks." In harmony with the evening, duct tape was acquired and the band played on.
Overheard: Right after Eastern Span opened with "Complete Control," and established that they would be performing with punk energy regardless of their sound -- "Man, that was a high school moment for me." That single debuted in 1977. The crowd was definitely a bit older than normal at Bottom of the Hill, but I hope the man was referring to the band's ethos or another cover.