Joe Strummer is an undeniable icon of British music and his premature death, aged just 50, remains heart-rending. The punk renegade had enjoyed a second wind during the latter years of his life, and his final performance came just weeks before his passing on December 22nd, 2002.
During the final few years of Strummer’s career, the former Clash leader stopped taking life too seriously and, instead, took it upon himself to enjoy the wild ride at every opportunity. In 2000, speaking during an interview, he confessed: “This is my Indian summer … I learnt that fame is an illusion and everything about it is just a joke. I’m far more dangerous now because I don’t care at all.”
Despite the royal status that Strummer accrued in the music industry – and the indispensable cultural importance of The Clash within the punk movement – towards the end, the singer was firmly operating on the outskirts of the mainstream, and it suited him to a tee.
His final show came at the moderately sized Liverpool University, and it was a fitting location for Strummer to bow out. Not only do the inherently socialist values of the city align with the late singer’s belief system, but, more poignantly, it is also where he made his highly anticipated comeback with his new band, The Mescaleros, in 1999.
The ’90s were an ominous time for Strummer, and before forming The Mescaleros, he spent most of the decade aimlessly drifting. He later described this period as his “wilderness years”, which included a cameo on the animated television show South Park, a brief stint as the singer of The Pogues, as well as collaborations with newer acts The Levellers and Black Grape.
However, when back on track, there was an air of liberation around his renaissance, and Strummer felt free from the shackles that previously surrounded him in The Clash. Discussing his new approach to life, Strummer later told Classic Rock that a significant reason The Clash broke up was that they “saw what The Who were like at the end of their tether. It’s a bad scene. You very quickly turn into nothing.”
After taking a much-required break from stardom, Strummer learned to re-appreciate the simplistic joy of playing live to his fanbase, as is reflected by the audio from his final show in Liverpool. While it remains a crying shame that no video footage from that night existed, thankfully, there is a bootleg recording of the gig in its entirety. During the performance, Strummer is in scintillating form and leads his band through an expansive set that delightfully combines the two contrasting eras of his career.
The first part of the set almost entirely consisted of Mescaleros material with a sprinkling of tracks from The Clash, including ‘Rudie Can’t Fail’ before finishing on the anarchic anthem, ‘Police On My Back’. Strummer then rolled back the years further during the encore with ‘Bankrobber’ and ‘(White Man) In Hammersmith Palais’ before concluding on ‘White Riot’.
Tragically, less than a month later, Strummer would be dead after suffering a heart attack triggered by an undetected congenital defect. Strummer’s final show was a modest one, and wouldn’t have had it any other way, keeping a grasp of the punk ethos right up until his final note.
See the setlist and listen to the concert below.
Joe Strummer’s final setlist:
- ‘Shaktar Donetsk’
- ‘Bhindi Bhagee’
- ‘Rudie Can’t Fail’
- ‘Bummed Out City’
- ‘Guitar Slinger Man’
- ‘Mega Bottle Ride’
- ‘Police and Thieves’
- ‘Dakar Meantime’
- ‘Tony Adams’
- ‘Get Down Moses’
- ‘Cool ‘n’ Out’
- ‘1969’ (The Stooges cover)
- ‘Junco Partner’
- ‘Johnny Appleseed’
- ‘Coma Girl’
- ‘Police on My Back’
- ‘A Message to You, Rudy’
- ‘(White Man) In Hammersmith Palais’
- ‘White Riot’