It almost goes without saying that Joe Strummer’s reemergence in 1999, with the release of Rock Art And The TV Style, was as heartening as his unexpected death at the end of 2002 was heartbreaking. Here you have a chance to go back to the near-beginning of said reemergence – reason to cheer, eh? Actually, by the time the Mescaleros hit the North American shores at the beginning of November ’99 they had already been honing their stagecraft for a good five months with a slew of UK and European shows under their belt. They’d also come over briefly for five American gigs – NYC, Chicago, D.C., L.A. and San Fran -- at the end of June. But with Rock Art finally in stores, the band bore down, with stunning results, as most reports from the trenches from around this time being borderline ecstatic that the former Clash city rocker was back in the saddle and in fine form to boot.
The sensibly-titled Toronto, November 20, 1999 is apparently taken from a webcast as it’s known that there were several streams broadcast from the venue and fans quickly began trading CDRs of the show. It’s inexplicably lacking the second and tenth songs in the set, “Nothin’ About Nothin’” and “Road To Rock ‘n’ Roll” (despite those song being listed on the sleeve – another sleeve error has “Forbidden City” listed, but that wasn’t performed at the show). There is some major compression on the recording which makes for some intermittently dodgy listening; Joe’s spoken intro to “Casbah,” for example, sounds like he’s talking through a tin can, and the subsequent tune almost sounds like it goes out of phase at times. Overall, however, the quality is reasonably good with no crowd noise or significant distortion, so I’ll give it the proverbial, er, thumbs-up. Below I’ll copy a review of the highly energetic gig from the Toronto Sun. -- OSWALD
TORONTO - Joe Strummer's show at the Warehouse Saturday would have worked just fine had the former Clash singer-guitarist taken the easy route.
It was that much better because he didn't. Strummer had it all sewn up: A sold-out house of 1,800 punters out to see him serve up their Clash favourites (the show's promoters even took out ads saying he'd play them). He has under his guitar strap a classic repertoire of late '70s and early '80s punk rock, much of it tinged with funk and reggae, which he's rarely played live since dissolving The Clash in 1985.
Like so many resurrected rock heroes, he could have messed that music up royally, but he's been absolutely nailing it in concert these days with his keen, fresh-sounding new band, The Mescaleros.
Add that to the fact that Strummer just released his first solo album in 10 years, Rock Art And The X-Ray Style, and the singer was holding all cards for a triumphant return-to-form. Strange, then, that he didn't reveal his hand until well into Saturday night's gig. There was deadly suspense as Strummer and the five-piece Mescaleros calmly stepped into place and rolled into the slow-building new rocker Diggin' The New -- an ironic choice for an opening tune considering that, judging by the blank stares and folded arms, much of the crowd wasn't diggin' it.
Strummer plugged away and won the crowd over row-by-row, shaking them loose with a handful of new tunes. It was as if he was determined to work for it, to earn a victory -- or at least prove that this crowd wasn't too tough for The Mescaleros. He ultimately did both, but not before delivering devastating blows by way of The Clash songbook.
Strummer took nothing for granted. Focused, almost possessed on stage, he didn't get cocky or goofy with his audience, rarely making eye-contact with people in the pit unless in the throes of a tune.
He clearly wasn't comfortable taking credit for songs he didn't write. Rock The Casbah, the first true rabble-rouser of the night, was dedicated to former Clash drummer Topper Headon. Strummer gave a shout-out to Clash co-writer and singer-guitarist Mick Jones before the glorious Safe European Home. A stock version of Toots & The Maytals' Pressure Drop turned into a show-stopper.
Likewise, old tunes were lovingly updated to suit the electro and dub leanings of his young band: Casbah featured fat, rollicking piano from former Black Grape key-man Martin Slattery; the group cut some of the rock gristle off the punk-reggae number White Man In Hammersmith Palais.
The Clash were always good at re-thinking their songs for a live setting, and Strummer can still do so naturally.
To his credit, some of the show's most memorable -- and forgettable -- moments came during solo tunes. The new Yalla Yalla offered captivating and beautiful techno-dub, while Tony Adams and X-Ray Style sounded bold and original. Techno D-Day fell flat, but Strummer stirred up some unexpected memories with 1988's Trash City, an emotional slice of Latin-punkabilly written for the soundtrack to a Keanu Reeves movie that turned out to be a mini-hit in these parts.
The interplay of Jones, Headon, and Clash bassist Paul Simonon were missed at times -- Tommy Gun, Rudie Can't Fail -- but in Strummer's capable hands, the room was rocking and rolling like a soccer terrace. By encore closer Bankrobber, perhaps Strummer's greatest contribution to recorded sound, it was a religious experience: Vital, immediate, as special as rock music gets.