England's Clash brought their version of rock's civil war to Ritchie Coliseum Saturday night. By the time they ended their second encore, a hypersonic invitation to chaos called "White Riot," their attack on the spiritual dissolution of modern rock was complete.

The intensity and conviction the band brought to the stage did not depend at all on their political lyrics, which were largely unintelligible. It is their sound -- strident, loud and furiously paced -- that forces you to join their army or desert. As lead singer Joe Strummer and guitarist Mike Jones raced around the stage, much of the ecstatic audience left the bleachers to join them.

If you could catch your breath for a moment and listen through the band's wall of noise, you would hear a classic rock 'n' roll band that applies a chord change, vocal chorus or melody with as much power as the Who at their best. In fact, "Clash City Rockers" was heavily indebted to Peter Townsend, while a number of other sons, like "Police and Thieves," revealed the band's affection for reggae.

Despite their relevance to rock's future, the Clash's reverence for the past was obvious in their selection of Screamin' Jay Hawkins, a '50s R & B performer, as an opening act, and in their noisy trashing of "I Fought the Law," Bobby Fuller's '60s classic.Although the Clash may not be, as some claim, the world's greated rock band, they are the most effectively aggressive band around. And that's great enough.