Pogues' MacGowan is in rare form

Publication: The Boston Globe

Author: Jonathan Perry

Date: March 23, 2009

Reviewed gig:Boston, MA, House of Blues; March 20-21, 2009

Original Location: Link

Punctuality and professionalism are qualities one usually doesn't associate with, or apply to, Pogues singer Shane MacGowan. Some might even argue that MacGowan's best moments - the fashionably late arrival; the soused, half-sung, half-growled recitations of trial and tribulation as penny whistles and mandolins dance a jig around him - are, in fact, those that occur as the inverse of those qualities.

But for the first time in recent memory Friday night, during the first show of a two-night, sold-out stand at the House of Blues, MacGowan seemed up to the task of meeting the music (and his always impeccable band) on its own terms - with a degree of punctuality and, yes, professionalism not dreamt of in ages.

Compared to last year's slipshod performance at the Orpheum Theatre, when it was all MacGowan could do to muster coherence, on Friday he exhibited a modicum of restraint (for him, that is) when it came to balancing alcoholic consumption with his ability to deliver rollicking songs like the opener, "Streams of Whiskey," and "If I Should Fall From the Grace of God," which immediately followed. In fact, flanked by his eight enablers, the 51-year-old MacGowan - casually clad in black sweater, slacks, and shoes, and looking healthier than he has in some time - barreled gamely through two dozen examples of the reunited Irish punk band's extensive back catalog.

The night was spiked with highlights: The Eastern-tinged reverie "Turkish Song of the Damned" gave way to a roughly gorgeous "A Pair of Brown Eyes," and it was only a matter of time before we got the churlish, in-the-gutter growl of "Dirty Old Town" - a cover that the Pogues have all but made their own. The night even took a refreshingly pretty pop turn when tin whistle player Spider Stacy stepped forward to sing "Tuesday Morning," a straightforwardly sparkling tune that sounded somewhat out of place, but nevertheless proved a welcome departure of mood.

For much of the 90-minute show, the music - a Celtic clatter of waltzing accordion and sprightly banjo that collided, again and again, with jaunty punk time signatures - felt like a blended blur of life's emotional extremes: joy, laughter, tears, and sorrow. Beating at the music's clamoring heart were the Pogues, who ultimately left us wondering whether there ever was a band so perfectly, equally suited to playing either a wedding or a wake.

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