While real live music is still indefinitely on hold as the Corona virus wrecks havoc on our world, artists are still finding various ways to play for fans, raise money for good causes, and with A Song for Joe: A Celebration of the Life of Joe Strummer, pay honor to one of their own who was gone too soon. Arranged by punk rock luminary Jesse Malin, the live-streamed show featured a range of artists covering tracks from throughout the late Strummer’s vast catalogue, as well as stories from those who knew the man well. And as Strummer would have wanted, the event sought to raise money for the Save our Stages campaign, seeking to help struggling independent music venues survive.
Following an opening message from Malin in front of the Joe Strummer mural in New York, the event opened with previously unseen footage of the man himself, Joe Strummer, playing a riveting version of “Police on My Back”. As someone who sadly never got to see the man play in person, the footage clearly shows why Strummer has become as legendary as he is. Next up was one of The Clash‘s most recent star devotees, The Interrupters covering the reggae-heavy “Get Down Moses” from Strummer’s work with the Mescaleros. It was a strong fit for the modern ska-punks, and singer Aimee Interrupter‘s deeper vocals.
The first of a slew of heartfelt birthday wishes came from The Boss himself, Bruce Springsteen. While I admit some disappointment as to not getting a cover from The Boss (like the brilliant one he performed at the Grammys years back), his words still rang with gravitas and sorrow at Strummer no longer being here with us. Next up, Wilco‘s Jeff Tweedy performed an acoustic, folky version of “Death or Glory”, a favorite off of London Calling. Also tackling The Clash acoustically was Tom Morello, applying his smokey vocals “Bankrobber”.
For Jesse Malin‘s first performance, he brought a full band out for a vibrant take on the Joe Strummer & The Mescaleros classic “Johnny Appleseed”. Spanish band Hinds gave what can only be described as an adorable acoustic performance of “Spanish Bombs”, sung together with playful gusto. More pensive was Craig Finn and Tad Kubler‘s version of “Washington Bullets”, showcasing the versatility of Strummer’s works. Much like Bob Dylan, his songs have a universal quality and a simplicity that allows them to be interpreted in a vast number of styles.
Following an introduction by Beto O’Rourke, Joe Ely played the famous “I Fought the Law”, not written by Strummer, but certainly made more famous by The Clash‘s take on it. Brian Fallon applied his folky style to “Long Shadow” while Cherry Glazerr take on “Charlie Don’t Surf” transformed the song into an indie surf rock nugget.
One of the most dynamic performances (and best shot ones) was Josh Hommes and Troy Van Leeuwen‘s “Train in Vain (Stand by Me)”, as Hommes struts around and plays off Leeuwen’s cool playing style. This performance was followed by one of the more entertaining stories of the event from actor Ray Gange, who recalls a night when he and Joe chose to steal some unattended drinks off a table instead of waiting in line. You’ll have to watch to hear the full story.
The performances and tributes kept coming, from artists like Dave Haus and Lucinda Williams, and even an original tribute song from Gogol Bordello‘s Eugene Hutz. Steve Buscemi‘s remembrances of working with Joe on Mystery Train, or the Grateful Dead‘s Bob Weir discussing an all night conversation with Joe show off the different sides of the man which we all wish we could still be seeing.
For any fan of The Clash or Strummer’s solo work, this all-star concert is worth watching, and will only enlighten you further as to the man behind the myth. Add in the great cause which you should all support to help keep our indie venues alive until we can frequent them again, and you’ll feel like this was two hours spent well.