Sunday, June 19, 2011

The Clash - 30 Years Since Bond's on Broadway

Between May 28 and June 13, 1981 The Clash, in their only American appearance that year invaded New York City and changed the way concerts were sold and promoted forever. Right in the center of Broadway at Bond’s Casino on 45th and Broadway was the place to be. While punk was booming downtown in the Bowery at CBGB’s, The Clash, arrived in America at an important crux in their career, they were too big to play the tiny downtown club and too small to headline an arena or stadium, they needed a medium size venue that would display their raw power and bravado. Capping out at 3,500 people, Bond’s would be it.

The Clash had just released their ambitious fourth album and second double album, Sandinista, the London band had already cemented their popularity with their brilliant sophomore album, London Calling. Unlike their contemporaries; The Ramones, The Sex Pistols, Buzzcocks, they were mixing various genres with their guitar driven punk. From reggae to ska to dub to rockabilly to dancehall, The Clash was at the cusp of breaking into the mainstream of commercial success much more than they already were due to their multi-genre appeal. They were about to go from “the only band that mattered” to the biggest band in the world.
Bond’s held the publicity of the gigs and some of the concerts would be recorded for CBS and broadcast on the radio. Unlike the shows of today, fans could not call into or log onto Ticketmaster, they were forced to wait in line outside the venue to be lucky enough to score tickets for a show let alone multiple ones. The promoters of the shows underestimated the band’s popularity and cult following under booking them and overselling each night and this being the band’s only American appearance, initially eight concerts were only scheduled from May 28-31 and June 1-3 and June 5. Ten thousand fans queued for tickets and the fiasco for waiting to get in spilled into the streets and drawing much more negative attention than initially wanted. With Fire Marshall’s closing down a few of the shows, nine more were added and a ticket fiasco would break out as the promoters of Bond’s tried to not grant tickets for the shows that were cancelled for the new dates and forced fans to pay double. With The Clash notorious for keeping prices low, they would condemn the greed of the promoters for charging fans twice, which was something unprecedented at the time.

It was only fitting that New York City would be the home of the band’s only American appearance as all of the members of the band; Joe Strummer, Mick Jones, Paul Simonon and Topper Headon all had a fascination with the Big Apple. It was Strummer especially who was wide eyed about the city as he would hang out in Harlem to find what was going on with urban music and culture and then check into the Lower East Side and see what was going on in the punk and art scene. Just as much as The Clash were fascinated with New York, New York was fascinated with The Clash. Director Martin Scorsese was filming King of Comedy, in Midtown as the band were readying their Bond’s gigs and being a fan of the band, asked the boys to make a brief cameo in the film. The band would even oblige fans as they waited in line for tickets and would perform guerilla sets on the Bond’s marquee. With opening acts that ranged from Bad Brains, The Sirens, Lee ‘Scratch” Perry, The Rockats, The Fall and most notorious – Grand Master Flash and the Furious Five, an act in which fans at the time booed as hip-hop was still in it’s infancy and the white kids in the audience could not understand what was happening, Joe Strummer would famously defend Grand Master Flash’s music to the crowd.

These 17 shows were a turning point in The Clash’s history. After the success and acclaim of those concerts, it proved the two minds fronting the band were at a cross roads with each other and fame. While Strummer wanted to play the intimate, sweaty, intense clubs it was Mick Jones who wanted to gun for glory and get into the arena’s and stadiums, which the band would do the next time they returned to the U.S. supporting The Who and playing places like Shea Stadium. As the band’s fame got bigger and by the time they would release Combat Rock in 1982, it saw the band rise on the charts with the singles “Should I Stay or Should I Go” and “Rock the Casbah.” The demand for the band was greater than ever and as they get caught up in the “rock star” lifestyle, drummer Topper Headon battled a heroin addiction that forced the band to fire him and Jones and Strummer were constantly at each other’s throats. Strummer would eventually fire everyone in the band in 1983 and would release Cut the Crap in 1985, what would be the final Clash album before he went solo and started an acting career. Mick Jones would start Big Audio Dynamite, the reggae / ska band that saw much commercial success in the 80’s with the single “Rush,” the band has recently reunited after 25 years and are currently touring, during his sabbatical with Big Audio Dynamite, Jones would find a groove in the band Carbon/Silicon. Paul Simonon would start the band Havana 3am and would be a bass guitarist for hire through the years as well as finding solace in painting, most recently he was apart of Damon Albarn’s The Good, The Bad and The Queen project as well as Gorillaz along with Mick Jones, which saw the two of them return to a Manhattan stage together for the first time since the Bond’s concerts.

The concerts would hold a high place in the spectator’s memories and in the history books of rock and roll and New York City. The performances that were broadcasted on CBS would eventually be released as the box set, The Clash on Broadway and some of the song’s appearing on The Clash’s 1999 live album, From Here to Eternity. Bond’s today is a resturant right in the heart of Broadway, you cannot walk past it without thinking and a sense of wonderment what had happened in front and inside those doors 30 years ago.