By John Curley
When The Clash were in New York City in 1981 for the band’s legendary residency at Bond’s International Casino in Times Square, Don Letts, also a filmmaker and DJ, accompanied the band to document the shows on film. The resulting film, Clash On Broadway, was never released. During the extended stay in the Big Apple, Letts and Mick Jones immersed themselves in the city’s then-embryonic hip-hop scene. That experience helped lay the groundwork for Big Audio Dynamite, the forward-looking band that Jones and Letts founded after Jones left The Clash.
Flashforward to this past Tuesday night, April 19th. Big Audio Dynamite were making their first appearance in New York City in over two decades. The show took place at the Roseland Ballroom in midtown, only a stone’s throw from the former site of Bond’s. Following a well-received DJ set that featured music from the mid-Eighties to the early Nineties (Big Audio Dynamite’s era), the band took the stage. Behind the band was a huge painted backdrop, featuring their “B.A.D.” logo as well as piles of speaker cabinets. In addition to Jones (guitar and lead vocals) and Letts (keyboards, sampling, percussion, and rapping), Big Audio Dynamite includes Leo Williams (bass), Greg Roberts (drums), and Dan Donovan (keyboards). This was the original lineup of Big Audio Dynamite, the one that recorded the band’s first four albums. (Jones and Williams also play together in the band Carbon/Silicon.)
Kicking off the show with “Medicine Show,” the lead track from Big Audio Dynamite’s debut album, Jones and company had the crowd involved immediately. Huge cheers greeted the band, and the audience, largely in their 40s and 50s, were very enthusiastic throughout the show. Even the people in the V.I.P. section, which had chairs and tables, were on their feet for the duration of the show. It was a great atmosphere, and the band appeared to feed off of the energy from the crowd.
While Jones sang the lion’s share of the lead vocals, he was joined by Letts on several occasions, notably on “BAD.” During that song, Letts, who is now a DJ on the British radio station BBC 6 Music, walked out from behind the sampling deck and moved around the stage, firing off raps .The interplay between Jones and Letts was very effective.
While the audience was loud throughout the show, its enthusiasm seemed to reach its peak during the performances of “C’mon Every Beatbox” and “Rush.” Jones, seemingly pleased by the reaction of the audience, was quite talkative in between songs. Jones only appeared to be less than pleased when the band had to abort the first attempt at “E = MC²” after about 20 seconds due to a technical glitch. But they gave the song a second shot, and it was played to its conclusion without further incident.
On record, Big Audio Dynamite sometimes seemed to be equal parts music and sampling. While sampling was used in the show at Roseland, the emphasis was on the live band. As a result, Big Audio Dynamite seems to be more of a rock band than they ever have.
There’s been a lot of excitement over Big Audio Dynamite’s reunion. Like The Pixies, who reunited in 2004 after over a decade apart to great popular and critical acclaim, Big Audio Dynamite seem to be more appreciated now than they were in their heyday. Here’s hoping that they continue to perform and, possibly, even release some new music.
Big Audio Dynamite played for about one hour and 45 minutes. Their 11-song main set was followed by a two-song first encore and an additional single-song second encore.
The set list was as follows:
Beyond The Pale
Just Play Music!
C’mon Every Beatbox
The Battle of All Saints Road
The Bottom Line
E = MC²