Review: ‘Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros’

The Mescaleros, which ushered Strummer back into CD bins two years ago after a lengthy recording hiatus, are a strident lot, their ambition coiled in the melding of Irish fiddle tunes with power-pop chords and a beat that leap-frogs from urgent rock 'n' roll to rock-steady reggae.

Arguably the most important member of the most important band since the Beatles picked a fight with a rowdy patron in a packed, sweaty Troubadour, right there onstage. The fan was pulled up on stage and Joe Strummer challenged him to some fisticuffs, the singer’s hand motions indicating he took offense at the fan putting his hands in his face. Fan was sent back into the crowd and Strummer remained riled, 1-2-3’ing his Mescaleros into a feverish rocker, proving there’s still a lot of mettle inside of Joe Strummer 25 years after he partnered with three guys and became the Clash.

The Mescaleros, which ushered Strummer back into CD bins two years ago after a lengthy recording hiatus, are a strident lot, their ambition coiled in the melding of Irish fiddle tunes with power-pop chords and a beat that leap-frogs from urgent rock ‘n’ roll to rock-steady reggae. The new songs that fill the aptly titled “Global a Go-Go” (Epitaph) propel Strummer’s international stylistic reach, a not surprising move considering the Clash tried it with the overblown genre-mixer “Sandanista!” “Global” owes its success to its conciseness.

Instrumental show starter, the traditional “Minstrel Boy,” opened the door on the Celtic influences; “What’s It All About” pushed those influences away and allowed the Strummer that the audience knows from the Clash to shine. “Tony Adams,” an ode to the English footballer from the Mescaleros’ first album, continues to be a concert highlight.

At center stage, it’s still good ol’ Joe: He switched between guitars — one battered and one shiny — and played them furiously, he broke strings, he sang with venom, he took that now-familiar rebel stance, he was drenched in sweat from the second song forward and, an hour and a half later, when he was encoring with the Clash’s “Bankrobber,” he and the band were as intense as they had been at the beginning of the set.

“London’s Burning” and the reggae tunes “Bankrobber” and “Rudie Can’t Fail” were the only Clash-associated numbers of the night that came from the pen of Strummer and his former bandmate Mick Jones. Oddly enough, Clash numbers in the set were nearly all reggae covers: “Rudy Can’t Fail,” Junior Murvin’s “Police and Thieves,” Willie Williams’ applicable ballad for days of terrorism and war “Armageddon Time,” Eddy Grant’s “Police on My Back” and Toots Hibbert’s “Pressure Drop.” Boiling versions of James Booker’s New Orleans funk hit “Junko Partner,” Jimmy Cliff’s “The Harder They Come” and, of course, the Bobby Fuller Four’s “I Fought the Law” were thrown into the mix as well. Strummer sang each with punk spirit and a Jamaican heart.

Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros

Troubadour; 395 capacity; $30

Production

Presented inhouse. Opened Oct. 22, 2001; reviewed Oct. 23; also Oct. 25, 26.

Cast

Band: Joe Strummer, Pablo Cook, Scott Shields, Martin Slattery, Tymon Dogg, Richard Flack.
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