Reconciling a glorious past with a less familiar present

Nowadays attracting diverse crowds of young and old – from more recent concertgoers who failed to see the long disbanded punk legends, The Clash, on stage, to aging fans still moved by the experience – Joe Strummer, a key member of that band, is inciting a mixture of nostalgia and respect at shows as frontman of The Mescaleros, his latest project, which is scheduled to play two shows in Greece this week. Strummer, who surfaced with his most recent band two years ago, last toured here with The Clash back in 1985 as part of a major local festival, Rock in Athens, just a few months before the band fell apart. That festival, an early forerunner to the country’s relatively heightened concert activity in subsequent years, also featured several other formidable new wave/post-punk acts, including The Stranglers, The Cure, Depeche Mode, Nina Hagen, and Culture Club. Over the years, many of those acts have either dissolved or waned into irrelevance. The Stranglers, for example, milked the cash cow nourished by their earlier accomplishments to stagger through the previous decade long after their original frontman and key member, Hugh Cornwell, had – wisely – decided to step down. Quite remarkably, the enduring electro-pop band Depeche Mode has both remained intact and been able to produce fresh-sounding material after a series of heavy personal woes began threatening the band’s existence in the mid-1990s. Spurred by self-respect as a key motive, The Clash never attempted to relive, or capitalize on, their glorious past. Nor did the band attempt to embark on new, risky adventures over a changing musical landscape once the act’s members realized that an era – both for the band and an entire punk scene – had ended. Despite the reunion rumors that have come and gone in recent years, as well as the lucrative deals the band was probably offered, The Clash’s past has – so far – remained the past. You’ve always got to carry on. You mustn’t stick to the past. I’ve managed to renew my interest for music with The Mescaleros. I’ve found a new challenge for myself. I could never have rested on the laurels of The Clash. It wouldn’t have any meaning, Strummer recently told local radio station Rock FM. But don’t get me wrong. I’m proud of The Clash and everything the band managed to accomplish. I still like playing the old songs, but also feel the need to carry on. I don’t find any meaning in repeating what I did 20 or 25 years ago, he added. Blending punk with touches of reggae, dub, and rockabilly, while also maintaining a leftist political ideology, The Clash were one of the punk circuit’s more articulate and constructive acts whose overall message has enjoyed lasting impact and influenced numerous younger acts, a prime example being the popular alternative Latin-reggae artist Manu Chao, whose two former bands, Mano Negra and Hot Pants, which he fronted before going solo, were heavily influenced by The Clash. Since the legendary group’s breakup in 1986, Strummer has remained active with a variety of projects including acting (Straight to Hell, Mystery Train), film soundtracks (Permanent Record, Grosse Pointe Blank), as well as a solo record, 1989’s Earthquake Weather. He also briefly joined The Pogues in 1990 as a rhythm guitarist and vocalist. Strummer’s latest project as frontman of The Mescaleros marked a full return to music 10 years after the release of his first solo album, with 1999’s Rock Art and the X-Ray Style. A second Mescaleros album, Global a Go-Go, perhaps his most eclectic work to date, was released earlier this year. Reports of recent shows have described The Mescaleros as a tight and raw band on stage, and Strummer, now 49, as still passionate about his music and focused on reconciling a glorious past and lesser known present. Strummer knows he can’t get away scot-free. Older Clash classics will be included. Joe Strummer and The Mescaleros will play Thursday at 10 p.m. at the Hydrogeios Club in Thessaloniki and Friday at 9.30 p.m. at Sporting Stadium in Athens. Tickets cost 8,000 drachmas and are available at all Metropolis record stores.

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