Upsetting
Monday, December 16, 2002
  Christgau, 1979
No one has ever made rock and roll as intense as the Clash is making right now - not Little Richard or Jerry Lee Lewis, not the early Beatles or the middle Stones or the inspired James Brown or the pre-operatic Who, not Hendrix or Led Zep, not the MC-5 or the Stooges, not the Dolls or the Pistols or the Ramones. On a brute physical level, their combination of volume and tempo is unrivaled. Anybody with capital can turn up the amps, of course - the hard part, as an impressed Stanley Crouch theorized after the band’s Palladium appearance, is for the musicians to turn themselves up even higher, something not even Robert Plant and Jimmy Page ever try for more than a minute or two, despite the cushion of heavy metal’s rhinoce-beat. And fast heroes from Little Richard to the Dolls and beyond have known when to slow down, resorting to the change-of-pace much more readily than the Clash, whose dip into "Stay Free" and a speedy "Police an Thieves" induced no one in the orchestra at either concert I attended to sit, although by then simple fatigue had dropped a few. Even the Ramones do ballads and medium-tempo rockers, and the Ramones’ formalistic poses enable them to generate exhilaration music with almost no expenditure of interpretive emotion, while the Clash’s dense and expansive song structures, freer stagecraft, and urgent verbal messages demand interpretation. For the Clash, every concert is an athletic challenge far out on the shoals of expressionism, whence few new wavers return without a mouthful of brine.
 
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