After playing to bigger and clearly younger audiences at festivals all spring and summer -- including Lollapalooza just a day earlier in Chicago -- Clash guitarist Mick Jones and his reunited urban/Jamaican/dance-rock ensemble Big Audio Dynamite faced a perhaps humbling, more realistic crowd Sunday night at First Avenue. The club was only three-quarters full, and about 90 percent of the attendees were old enough to have voted in the first George Bush's two elections. Throw in the merch stand's b-boy-looking T-shirts that resembled something out of a mall record store circa 1988, plus a cheap "B.A.D." banner backdrop that looked equally dated, and the show had all the markings of a tired old flashback as irrelevant to today as KMFDM (playing First Ave on Friday).
It was against many odds, then, that Jones & Co. proved surprisingly timeless and tireless Sunday night. The five-piece band -- including co-founder Don Letts on keyboards/percussion/dreads/scat-rap and masterful rhythm-makers Leo Williams and Greg Roberts -- left behind many of the electronic beats and digital-era-precursory sampling that would've added to the show's outdated vibe. Instead, they stuck to a mostly straight-ahead, amped-up rock base that highlighted the underrated songwriting and rich hooks in their discography. And the aged and possibly cynical crowd similarly responded with an unnaturally youthful, exuberant response throughout the 90-minute set.
In the first half of the show, the band made a strong case for its second album, "No. 10 Upping St.," which pre-dated its hitmaking phase. The feel-good, buoyant rockers "V Thirteen" and "Sightsee M.C." -- both tunes that Jones co-write with his late Clash mate Joe Strummer -- would've sounded just as fresh released by one of today's hipper, danceable indie-rock bands. On the other hand, toward the end of the set they transformed "C'Mon Every Beatbox" into an extended, Ecstasy-flavored dance jam that sounded late-'80s dated in a good way. Letts poked fun of their pre-digital-era fame when Jones introduced "Play Some Music" as "a song from our third album." Retorted Letts, "What's an album?"
For his part, Jones, 56, seemed to be really enjoying himself and even inspired by the band's output, when it wouldn't have been surprising had he appeared a little uneasy about the whole thing. He noted at the start of the first encore, "I've never done a reunion before. It's been really interesting." He smiled as he said that and kept right on grinning through "The Bottom Line," "E=MC²" and "Rush" -- the latter saved for a second encore, maybe the least-surprising thing about the unexpectedly exhilarating show.
Medicine Show / V Thirteen / A Party / BAD / Rob Peter Pay Paul / Play Some Music / Sightsee M.C! / Everybody Needs A Holiday / C'Mon Every Beatbox / The Battle of All Saints Road / Rewind ENCORE 1: The Bottom Line / E=MC² ENCORE 2: Rush