Joe Strummer & the Mescaleros | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Joe Strummer & the Mescaleros 

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JOE STRUMMER & THE MESCALEROS

"Phony Beatlemania has bitten the dust!" barks Joe Strummer on the Clash's 1979 single "London Calling." But like the Beatles with their Anthology project, Strummer and his old bandmates have reunited lately to sift through the ashes, compiling a new live album (the excellent From Here to Eternity, on Epic) and reminiscing for a documentary film (Don Letts's forthcoming Westway to the World). Strummer was also trading heavily on his legend this July, when he and his new band, the Mescaleros, brought a set loaded with Clash favorites to Metro. Yet the fresh material from their Rock Art and the X-Ray Style (Hellcat) outshone the yellowing classics--Strummer has always been less interesting as a pop craftsman than as a journalist, crisscrossing the globe to broadcast stream-of-consciousness reports on the approaching Armageddon. "Lately breaking, this just in!" he announces to kick off "Tony Adams," a leisurely ska tune flavored with sax and tympani that paints a postapocalyptic landscape of New York City. The instantly hummable "Sandpaper Blues" indulges Strummer's love of Latin music, telling its protagonist, a poor guitar maker, "Keep the lantern bright, keep food upon the table / If you shape it well tonight, as well as you are able." The funky "Techno D-Day" verges on self-parody, drawing a comparison between the Normandy landing and a conflict at last year's Megadog festival, where Strummer was spinning calypso records and the cops told him to keep the volume down. But on the elegiac dub tune "Yalla Yalla"--a highlight of the live set--Strummer recaptures the righteous street poetry of his earlier days, tossing out imagery of exotic cultures exploited at the global shopping mall and sadly observing, "Well so long liberty, just let's forget you never showed / Not in my time / But in our sons' and daughters' time / When you get the feeling / Call, and you got a room." Strummer's hemispheric reach reminds us how far ahead of their time the Clash were--though they embraced world music as an emblem of solidarity with the third world, not as another bunch of bananas to be plucked, packaged, and sold. Saturday, 7 PM, Metro, 3730 N. Clark, 773-549-0203. J.R. JONES

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Rankin.

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