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Strummerville At Bowery Electric, Tuesday, January 29th, 2013, Reviewed

You've heard of the Clash on Broadway, well meet the Clash on the Bowery. A decade after Saint Joe Strummer's untimely death from a congenital heart defect, the Bowery Electric hosted a benefit for Strummerville: The Joe Strummer Foundation for New Music. and  packed out the tiny club to the point where people must have been wondering when the Fire Marshall was gonna show, to the point where they added a second show later in the night… to the point where it wasn't really fun.

I don't think anybody goes to benefits thinking the music is gonna be awesome. The musicians tend not to know each other very well and certainly if you have a house band, as Strummerville did Tuesday night, they also tend to be seriously under rehearsed.  With the band fronting one singer after another, Clash songs (and later on some solo stuff) were covered by a succession of singers, and for the 90 minutes I stayed, the night wasn't igniting.

Bowery Electric is pitch fork shaped in a basement, one spear heads up to the upstairs, the other to a balcony and the club bar. Given the shape there is a lot of wasted space and when it is sold out, you can easily find yourself packed like a sardine with nothing at all to see but the back of peoples heads. I made my way to the bar and watched the show on closed circuit TVs. Given the circumstances, it was hard to enjoy despite some fine covers and at the very least a sense of of the heartfelt tribute.

The Strummerville band were very good, maybe a touch too good. Todd Youth, in a pork pie hat, was the spitting image of Mick Jones and whenever given the opportunity his guitar playing was absolutely terrific. Tad Kubler of the Hold Steadys played rhythm guitar, D Generations Mike Wildwood played drums, and Catherine Popper bass. I mention the rhythm section specifically, because the band played more than its own fair share of rubbadub dub. Bad Religion's H.R, under micced but powerful "Police And Thief" and extended dub outro had the band absolutely shining with a heavy bass sound -it was like listening to a DJ at the 100 Club in 1977!

But despite Matt Pinfield's extolling us otherwise, the audience weren't having it and it wasn't entirely their fault. When you are changing lead singers everyt single song, and culling songs from all areas of the Clash (while I was there, they got to Strummer solo later), it is impossible to main continuity, let alone a groove. This despite Jeffrey Gaines head spinning roar through "Career Opportunities", with a spit out snarl just about perfect for the tuneful rebel rouser. He also got the vocal right and let's face it, it is hard to get a Strummer vocal right. 

Ten years on, you would expect the Clash to remain a heavily covered band. They aren't really, though their influence on current punk rockers is undoubted, how often do you hear "I'm So Bored With The USA" covered? Mick Stitch of the Threads performed a credible cover and Willie Nile didn't get enough from "Police On My Back" and  somewhere between all of this, at some time I start to wondering, why am I staying up late, getting shoved and pushed, to watch OK versions of Clash songs by talented denizens of the Bowery, but not much more? On television? 

We here at rock nyc are huge fans, Joe Strummer is to Helen Bach what John Lennon is to me, and if I am not that big a fan of Joe's solo albums, certainly the Clash's debut album, in both UK and US versions, remains a punk masterpiece leading to a dream of community DIY rock and roll never reached. Strummerville .com, the charity this benefit benefited .gives this as their mission: "Set up by the friends and family of Joe Strummer in the year after his death, we seek to reflect Joe’s unique contribution to the music world by offering support, resources and performance opportunities to artists who would not normally have access to them. We Are A Registered Charity & Totally Independent Non-Political Music Charity." Worthy stuff. We approve. 

That doesn't change the concert itself. 

Nothing special versions of "Tommy Gun", "Brand New Cadillac", "The Call Up", so on and so forth, will only get a Strummer fan so far and I admit:

1. I gave up

2. I was very uncomfortable

3. I couldn't see ANYTHING AT ALL.

So I missed some folks, but if your idea of fun is Brian Fallon (of Gaslight Anthem) singing "Johnny Appleseed", "Stay Free" and "Straight to Hell" you might want to get out more. 

In the end this was a vision of Strummer as man of the people, scuzzy young rocker being covered by scuzzy old rockers. I don't have the stomach to dis Strummerville, so just let my leaving half way through speak for itselfish…

Grade: A (for effort)

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