Gates of The West: A Celebration Of The Music Of Joe Strummer And The Clash At The Roxy, Saturday January 26th 2019
About five years ago, I remember Dave Grohl hosting a concert marathon with his Sound City Players at the Palladium to celebrate the L.A. premiere of his documentary about the recently closed Sound City Studios in Van Nuys. The show lasted about 3 hours with an all-star cast on stage and Dave Grohl playing guitar or drums basically all-night-long. Last night, Gates of the West was a very similar experience, and the Dave Grohl of the night had to be New York punk rocker Jesse Malin, who restlessly played with a long series of punk stars from the local L.A. scene to the N.Y.C. punk scene to more famous acts. It was a fantastic night, filled with surprises, and for more than 2 hours and a half, I was glued to the edge of the stage, waiting for the next act to sing another classic.
As Gates of the West, a not-too-well-known Clash song, was announcing, the night was a celebration of the music of Joe Strummer and the Clash and was benefiting California Community Foundation Wildfire Relief Fund, as well as the Joe Strummer Foundation and Music & Memory. And since a good cause is always a good excuse to rally plenty of interesting people, we got to see artists as diverse as Kevin Preston of Prima Donna and the Longshot, Andrew Taylor of Cheap Tissue, Leonard Phillips of the Dickies, Gregg Foreman (Mr. Pharmacist of many bands including Cat Power), Drew Stone of Antidote, Johnny Two Bags of Social Distortion, Suzi Gardner of L7, David Bason, Jack Grishman of T.S.O.L., Lisa Kekaula of the Bellrays, Jason Falker of Beck/Jellyfish, Johnny Martin, Paul Bearer of Sheer Terror, Kate Clover of ExSage, Dito, Joseph Arthur, Dave Catching of Eagles of Death Metal, Mike Watt+ The Missingmen, John Easdale of Dramarama, Laena Geronimo of Feels, Nick Urata of Devotchka, Wayne Kramer of MC5, Tom Morello, Jason Heath and The Greedy Souls, Jakob Dylan, Stephen Perkins of Jane’s Addiction, Adam Weiner of Low Cut Connie… and I may have forgotten a few.
First we were introduced to the long night by a set by Zander Schloss of the Circle Jerks and the Weirdos, a man also known because of his numerous collaborations with Joe Strummer, and for a punk rocker, he played a very delicate acoustic cover of the famous Bob Marley’s ‘Redemption Song’, then ‘Sleepwalk’ and got the full participation of the crowd for ‘Straight to Hell’, ‘the hardest song to sing in the history of all songs’, as he put it.
Before the Gates of the West Extravaganza, we got a full set of Jesse Malin’s own music, including a few covers. On stage, Jesse was restless with a nervous foot tapping and solid confidence, with songs obviously influenced by the legend of the night (‘Boots of Immigration’) and other ones engulfing more diverse horizons. Before the hard-hitting and fast tempo of ‘Turn Up The Mains’, which brought horns on stage, he mentioned the lack of political songs in the current state of the music, which didn’t seem to apply to his own material, ‘You can love your country and hate your fucking government’. From punk rock to slow ska to a full R&B orchestration flirting with the E Street band, a jazzy piano line or a New Orleans Mardis Gras parade, he and his band played an uplifting and diverse set, only briefly interrupted by a few stories about Joe Strummer (he met the man several times) or Shane MacGowan, and a few iPhone/social media bashing (yes, Jesse is a talker). The set was a delight for the middle age crowd and included a Pogues cover ‘If I Should Fall From Grace With God’ and a Big Star cover, ‘Thirteen’ at the end of Jesse’s own ‘Revelations’.
But it was just the appetizer, while the rest of the night flew like a non-stop train, fueled by some rare energy, with a series of guest singers flying on stage for a Strummer/Clash cover, with Jesse Malin and his band pretty much playing the entire time. At a few exceptions, as guitarist Dave Catching of Eagles of Death Metal joined them on stage for a few songs, and Mike Watt and the Missingmen did their own special Clash covers with their own instruments. You can always count on Mike Watt for some extra level of originality.
Of course, I have never seen the Clash in concert, a great regret in my life, but this was the closest I will ever be to experience these great songs live. Leonard Phillips of the Dickies doing ‘White Riot’ was a lot of fun, while Jack Grisham walking the stage with his usual anarchist debonaire smile for the glorious anthem ‘I’m So Bored With the U.S.A.’, was a second riot. All the classics were there, from ‘Know Your Rights’ (Mr. Pharmacist with a megaphone) and Laena Geronimo with a red beret, to ‘Death or Glory’ with Social Distortion’s own guitarist Johnny Two Bags. It was a succession of crowd cheering when a new guest was getting on stage as each one was attempting to add another layer of fierce delivery, whereas Lisa Kekaula of the Bellrays brought another side of the Clash with a soulful cover of ‘The Equaliser’. The women were fearless, from L7’s Suzi Gardner to Kate Clover dancing and singing during a fast tempo and high energy ‘I Fought the Law’. Sheer Terror’s Paul Bearer brought the horns on stage with his great voice for ‘The Card Cheat’, while Joseph Arthur had brought his harmonica for ‘Groovy Time’, and if Devotchka’s Nick Urata was an unexpected guest in this mostly punk line up, he did a great rendition of ‘Hateful’. ‘Brother’ Wayne Kramer of the MC5, accompanied by Tom Morello and Jason Heath made their guitars fly high during ‘Jail Guitar Doors’, followed by a rather low-key Jakob Dylan for ‘Brand New Cadillac’, He was obviously a big deal, and the women behind me started pushing when he came on stage, screaming ‘Jakob!’. He nevertheless stayed timid behind his hat and his bluesy chords, but came back for the last song ‘London Calling’, after a much more in-your-face performance by Low Cut Connie’s Adam Weiner, who was running the stage and reaching the crowd during ‘Train in Vain’.
The entire night was filled with Joe Strummer’s spirit and the Clash’s energy,… The Clash has become this mythical band fronted by this iconic man that we now celebrate and honor for diverse humanist causes. There was no real reason to celebrate the Clash on January 26th, but there is no need for a reason to celebrate the only band that matters. The show was sold out, a testament of their incredible aura, still very palpable today, of their political relevance, more real than ever, and of their versatility, once again proven by these people coming from all horizons and covering them with the same passion. I still kick myself for passing on the last L.A. concert of Joe Strummer in 2001 at the Troubadour, just a few blocks away… but Saturday night was not about regret or nostalgy, it was about celebration and with Jesse Malin around, the celebration of the Clash will certainly continue.