Pogues and Gogol Bordello pack the Marquee with punks

Publication: Azcentral.com (special for The Arizona Republic)

Author: Michael Senft

Date: October 22, 2009

Reviewed gig: Tempe, AZ, Marquee Theatre; October 21, 2009

Original Location: Link

The biggest band in the world may have been playing in Glendale, but Tempe's Marquee Theatre hosted a World Cup of punk this week. Representing Russia and Romany on Tuesday night were gypsy punks Gogol Bordello, while Irish legends the Pogues made their Valley debut on Wednesday. Both bands were spectacular, packing the Marquee with a variety of punks, drunks and assorted hooligans. Fans for both bands showed off their tribal colors - purple for Gogol Bordello, after their 2006 single "Start Wearing Purple" and Irish green for the Pogues. And both bands managed to get the crowd moshing to accordion music.

Gogol Bordello, led by mustachioed maniac Eugene Hutz delivered a frantic set mixing traditional Russian and gypsy music with Latin, reggae and other world beat influences. In addition to fan favorites like "Not a Crime," "Think Locally, (Expletive) Globally" and "Sally," they played several unfamiliar tracks including a punky Latin rave-up featuring vocals by percussionist Pedro Erazo.

They even had their own marching band and cheer squad in the form of background vocalists Elizabeth Sun and Pamela Jintata Racine, who added some dancing and marching percussion throughout the set

Hutz, who has quickly become one of the most exciting showmen in rock and roll, was the center of Gogol Bordello's mad cabaret, however, leading the band with an energy and charisma rarely seen in rock and roll any more, especially during the encore medley of "Undestructable," "Baro Faro" and "When the Trickster Starts a-Poking" which stretched for nearly 20 minutes.

Unfortunately, despite the mammoth encore, Gogol Bordello's set barely clocked in at 90 minutes.

On Wednesday it was the Pogues' turn. The Irish group, which has influenced a generation of Celtic punks, from Flogging Molly and Dropkick Murphys to the Valley's own Keltic Cowboys, took the stage late after opening sets from local Celtic singer Brid Dower and LA reggae band the Aggrolites, but made up for their tardiness with a two-hour set that included most of their hits as well as a few obscurities.

The Pogues haven't recorded any new material in 15 years and only plays a handful of dates annually, so they were able to dig deep into their back catalog for tunes like "Kitty" and "Transmetropolitan." They also proved that acoustic instruments can still rock. Save for electric bass, they offered a traditional mix of acoustic guitars, mandolin, banjo, accordion and tin whistle.

But people don't just go to see the Pogues for their fiery Celtic punk sound. The real draw is their singer Shane MacGowan, who in his own tragic way was just as mesmerizing as Hutz.

Known for his love of drink and hard drugs as well as his lack of teeth, MacGowan staggered on and off stage between songs, always with a beer in one hand and a cigarette in the other, mumbling incoherently between tunes, using the microphone stand to keep his body propped up while singing. He did not look healthy. His hair was unkempt and he wore an oversize rugby shirt that seemed to hide a considerable paunch, even though his face and arms looked thin.

MacGowan would be the subject of ridicule if he wasn't one of the best lyricists of the 1980s, a talent shown on such tunes as "Sick Bed of CuChulainn" and "A Rainy Night in Soho" which combine the urban grit of Lou Reed with the maudlin romance of Tom Waits. And although his voice is an acquired taste, the passion in his performance was palpable, and all the more striking considering how he conducted himself when not singing.

He also seemed to have had some dental work done - while his teeth (or lack thereof) weren't visible, his vocals didn't sound as windy as they had in the early '00s when the band first reunited.

Fellow Pogues Spider Stacy, Philip Chevron, Terry Woods and Andrew Rankin also helped out on vocals, singing a song apiece, allowing MacGowan a chance to rest, smoke, and/or drink offstage, and the group played a fiery instrumental, "Repeal of the Licensing Laws" but otherwise MacGowan was present throughout the two-hour set.

Ultimately, this World Cup of punk music had to go to the Pogues. Gogol Bordello is audacious and wild and will be a musical force for years to come, but the humor, tragedy and experience of the Pogues helped them win the day, even if their days on the road seem to be nearing an end.

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