Whether or not Joe Strummer had even the slightest clue that he was on the precipice, he played like he did. Always. This benefit show at Acton Town Hall from November of 2002- a month before Strummer would pass from a heart attack- not only is the famed singer-songwriter-guitarist’s final London appearance, but also reunites him with his ex-bandmate from The Clash, Mick Jones, and is available now for the first time on CD.
It’s also a 16-song performance that features his terrific Mescaleros band in full flight. The ensemble tears through a set of a few Clash numbers, especially when Jones jumps in, but mostly of their short-lived but impactful catalog, including untested tracks such as “Coma Girl,” from the Streetcore LP released posthumously. Strummer is as strong a lion as ever, with a voice that shreds and slices, and a motivated performance in solidarity with the striking firefighters.
Strummer was as political messenger as he was a performer, elevating the music until it met the gravitas of the message, but never in a heavy-handed manner. Instead, poetically, he weaved his social statements into his narratives. Maybe it’s a reach to say “Bhindee Bhagee” was as much about food as it was, tacitly, about the integration of culture into 21st-century England. Maybe not. At the very least, Strummer had us asking the question.
There is an especially poignant vibe, not just in hindsight, that permeates the Jones sit-in. Impromptu, or just the affect of such as it was, the two Clash mates reaffirming their place as musicians once in “the only band that matters” is a real gift. The album closes with “London’s Burning,” and how much more symmetry could there be; Strummer and Jones burning onstage, in support of London firefighters, fighting the good fight together one last time.