The Clash have been my favorite band since high school. Their fourth album, Sandinista!, is not only my favorite album, it is also Mayor Bill de Blasio’s favorite. According to Bill, the Clash are blasting through the walls of Gracie Mansion these days, as young Dante de Blasio has discovered “the only band that matters” for himself. In May and June of 1981, the Clash played 17 shows to promote Sandinista! at Bond International Casino in Times Square. Rolling Stone called the Clash’s run at Bond’s, “one of the finest moments in rock history.”
June 9 was one of the more epic shows, and recordings from the concert have been released on both bootlegs and proper Clash live albums.
The Clash were in their absolute prime when they rolled into New York City in the spring of 1981. They had released London Calling at the end of 1979, which had earned them enormous critical praise throughout 1980, expanding their fan base beyond the punk rock scene. The Clash hated their record contract, for which they still owed three albums. In 1980 they got to working on Sandinista!, and by releasing it as a triple-album (36 songs), they were liberated. Sandinista! absolutely gets into some weird avant garde stuff, but it’s also packed with groundbreaking dub reggae, intensely political lyrics, and the hip-hop styled masterpiece “Magnificent Seven,” which got play on New York’s black radio station WBLS. Bill and I are partial to “Living in Fame,” which features friend of the Clash, Mikey Dread.
The Bond’s shows were the only Clash appearances in the United States that year, and fans slept in Times Square to get tickets, which sounds much more rock & roll than logging onto TicketMaster at 12:00:00. Their run was supposed to last eight nights, but promoters sold twice as many tickets as fire code allowed, and the NYPD were in no mood to give a British punk band any leeway. The Clash decided that the only way to make their fans whole was to double the number of shows so everyone with a ticket could see them at Bond’s concert space, which had mostly been used during the past few years for dance parties in the dying disco scene.
The Clash loved promoting underground music acts, and openers for the Bond’s shows included Lee “Scratch Perry”, the Dead Kennedys, the Sugarhill Gang, and Grandmaster Flash and Furious Five. The boisterous, mostly white crowd was not ready for hip-hop, booing Grandmaster Flash, yelling “fuck you” during call and responses, and at one point pelting the group with beer. Joe Strummer gave the crowd a stern tongue-lashing after that one.
The setlist from June 9 is breathtaking, covering songs from all four of their albums and concert staples that never made an album like “Armagideon Time.” While even Clash scholars (they exist) sometimes give short shrift to Sandinista!, the Clash were obviously serious about it during this tour, playing a dozen cuts off the album, ending their set with their anti-imperialist anthem “Washington Bullets.”
Some videos from Bond’s populate the internet – here’s Safe European Home and This Is Radio Clash from the June 9 show and a news story on the concerts. And, as a special treat, here’s the full audio of the June 9 show. (Quality is so-so.)
Bond’s Casino is now Bond 45, an Italian restaurant.
As for the Clash, they reached international stardom with their 1982 album Combat Rock, which featured radio staples “Rock the Casbah” and “Should I Stay or Should Go,” as well as “Straight to Hell” – the sample for MIA’s “Paper Planes,” and “Ghetto Defendant,” a collaboration with Allen Ginsberg. Man, they are such a good band. Alas, tensions were running high by this point, with Joe Strummer and Mick Jones particularly at odds with how to handle their newfound fame. They sacked their drummer, Topper Headon, who couldn’t get his act together. The Clash still had their moments, like opening Shea Stadium for The Who in 1982, but some say their three-week run at Bond’s would forever be their high point.
My source for some of this article is taken from Jeff Chang’s excellent “Can’t Stop Won’t Stop,” a hip-hop history.