Turning Rebellion into Money: A Tribute to Joe Strummer at First Avenue, 2/1/14

Categories: Last Night
Photo by Steve Cohen

Turning Rebellion into Money: A Tribute to Joe Strummer
Featuring The 9/16's, Rude Girl, Greg Grease, BNLX, Gabe Douglas & Silverback Colony, Two Harbors, Wild!!Wing, Al Church & State and Jeremy Hanson & James Diers
First Avenue, Minneapolis
Saturday, February 1, 2014

The near-mythical status that the late, great rebel-rocker Joe Strummer cultivated in his years as the frontman for the Clash and accomplished later solo work cast as long shadow that reaches far beyond Punk. His was "the only band that mattered," after all, and Strummer's songwriting and crusading activism won him fans and many musical communities outside of the one he defined.

Tracing those roots of his influence into local bands with a wide range of styles is one of the reasons that the annual Turning Rebellion into Money benefit is such a pleasure to watch. Link that to a very worthy cause: Free Arts Minnesota, who gives traumatized youth a chance to heal through art and you have a tribute show that even the deliberately humble Joe would approve of.

See Also: Slideshow: A Tribute to Joe Strummer at First Avenue, 2/1/14

The event's organizers, including Ali Lozoff of MPR and James Diers, kept things moving at a relatively brisk pace, mostly restricting the night's various sets of music to short song blocks performed by the ten or so acts on the bill. Rather than restrict the lineup to rock groups with obvious Strummer debts, Lozoff and Diers seemed to allow anyone and everyone with an enthusiasm the cause or the material take a swing, including the moody, mellow pop of Diers and his Halloweeen, Alaska bandmate Jake Hanson.

Photo by Steve Cohen

While their respective performances did a good job of preparing the audience for the diverse range of interpretations they were about to witness that evening, Hanson and Diers left this reviewer craving some of the more bombastic songs from the Clash's catalog, so it was a nice treat to witness Al Church and State bang out some more uptempo stuff. Their take on "Clampdown" from London Calling was easily one of the best versions of the night, remaining fairly faithful to the stellar source material while still injecting some of glam rock tendencies that Church is known for.

State drummer Gambit Meeks and bassist Matthew Sandstedt deserve some real credit for capturing the difficult rhythm section work of Topper Headon and Paul Simonon as well. Meeks was able to nail Headon's incredible rolling tom fill at the start of "I Fought the Law," making it another early highlight from their set. Frontman Al Church put down the guitar for this show and seemed to have fun twisting his voice around the Junior Murvin classic "Police and Thieves" and doing some big-time rock 'n' roll posturing to rile up the crowd. Guest member Cole from the Secret Stash Records house band also brought his considerable talents as a saxophonist to their set, fleshing out some of the subtle horn charts the Clash were prone to adding.

Photo by Steve Cohen

Wild!!Wing probably isn't the first group you think of when you hear Aby Wolf's name, but the half-joking project she formed with her main man Josh Journey-Heinz and Matthew Kazama of Birthday Suits on drums is still a great vehicle to witness the singer's remarkable talents. Starting with the apocalyptic reggae grooves of "Armagideon Time" from The Clash's Combat Rock, Wild!!Wing mostly stuck to more dance-oriented material, also whipping through "Magnificent Seven" and "Rock the Casbah" in their short set.

Journey-Heinz, who normally plays guitar in the group, held down the funky low-end and cracked wise, joking that it was Kazama's lifelong dream to play reggae on the Mainroom stage. While the boys in the band did a great job, especially when guitarist Chris Smalley imitated the digital percussion on "Casbah" by beatboxing, any group that backs Aby's singular voice is bound to be a little overshadowed. Seeming to have a lot of fun with the whole premise, Wolf gave a slightly eerie take on "Armagideon" and her imitation of the classic Strummer scream in "Casbah" was pitch-perfect.

While local dream-pop four-piece Two Harbors have a tendency to look like they just woke up onstage, the did an admirable job with some of my favorite Clash material in style much closer to the source than their own. While the plaintive, Mick Jones-penned "Stay Free" definitely played to their strengths; the group also tore out a totally faithful take on "Career Opportunities," showcasing a fiery, highly energetic side that I'd love to see more of in their original tunes.

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