Two years ago Joe Strummer, former front man for the legendary punk band the Clash, pulled off one of the most unexpected--and welcome--rock comebacks in recent memory, assembling a backing band of young guns, recording the excellent Rock Art and the X-Ray Style, and quelling for the foreseeable future any misguided attempts to reunite his former group. That album was a bracing reminder that punk can have a more conscientious social agenda than giving the finger to everyone in sight; Lester Bangs put it best when he wrote that the Clash were righteous, meaning "you're more or less on the side of the angels, waging Armageddon for the ultimate victory of the forces of Good over the Kingdom of Death." The Mescaleros' latest release, Global a Go-Go (Hellcat), tilts to the left as well, but the lesson this time is that Strummer at his best is a playful, even goofy lyricist (asked recently to name his favorite film, he cited not Z or Salt of the Earth or even Apocalypse Now but Stanley Kramer's overblown comedy It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World). In "Mega Bottle Ride" he travels to the fourth dimension, discovers to his chagrin that it's a no-smoking area, and consoles himself by dancing to tracks by the Fifth Dimension. In "Gamma Ray" the deadly weapon levels everyone in sight, with the exception of overworked waitresses: "If you carry 12 margaritas on a tray / You cannot be touched in any way." And in "Bhindi Bhagee," when a stranger asks the singer what his band plays, he blurts out: "Ragga, bhangra, two-step tanga / Mini-cab radio, music on the go! / Surfbeat, backbeat, frontbeat, backseat / There's a bunch of players and they're really letting go! / We got Brit pop, hip-hop, rockabilly, lindy hop / Gaelic heavy-metal fans fighting in the road." The multi-instrumental Mescaleros--Scott Shields, Martin Slattery, Pablo Cook, and Tymon Dogg--may be destined to jam in Strummer's mile-long shadow forever, but they deserve, and get, equal credit for their supple and wide-ranging grooves. Monday, October 15, 7 PM, Metro, 3730 N. Clark; 773-549-0203.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Anton Corbijn.