BRASH, BREEZY, WOOZY MACGOWAN
"I am going, I am going, where streams of whiskey are flowing," barked Shane MacGowan, Wednesday night at the Roxy in front of 800-plus folks. Addendum: "I am going, I am going, any which way the wind may be blowing."
Ah, yes, passionate diffidence. This mini-manifesto came from the first song of nearly 20 played with MacGowan's new band, the Popes, and it set the table at the Roxy.
This is commitment Mac-n-style, which is to say finely sculpted, quasi-inebriated, ambiguous rave-up Celtic rock. Music that is hard and harsh, brash but breezy.
This was the first gig of the second leg of MacGowan's first US tour since he exited, or was bounced from, the Pogues, the Celtic-trad/punk-rock mish-mosh of a band he co-founded in London in the '80s.
If not, just know that MacGowan continues on the same staggering, if not quite swaggering, path he has been on for a decade: poetic punk with a wistful Irish lilt and a desultory voice-of-the-damned snarl. Rude sex in "Donegal Express" and "The Gentleman Soldier"; too much drink and debauchery in "Nancy Whiskey" and "The Sick Bed of Cuchulainn," the latter boasting a proud line about "noisy, drunken bastards" and an even prouder one about the guys who gather 'round the dead guy's grave.
As always, MacGowan seemed more together within the songs - slurry but recognizable, definitely and defiantly the messed-up angry romantic - than he did between them, where he often stumbled into the land of the incomprehensible. You had to ask, "Huh?"
"His stage presence reminds me of Johnny Thunders," said one first-timer, referring to the late, self-destructive New York Dolls guitarist. Joey Cashman, MacGowan's manager, said he wasn't overly medicated, despite pre-show martinis: "It's the way he always talks."
MacGowan's 75-minute set was almost a carbon copy of his Avalon show in August. MacGowan and company have not managed to work out arrangements of many songs from his fine, rough-and-ready comeback album, The Snake. No "The Woman's Got Me Drinking" [sic] or "The Church of the Holy Spook."
MacGowan was a mike-clinging enigma, happy to coast along on past glories. It wasn't a bad glide at all - the frequent yeeh-ha! punctuations made a lot of angry/gleeful sense. To hear the long-buried, early-Pogues signature song, "The Boys From County Hell" - with its "Lend me 10 pounds and I'll buy you a drink" refrain/come-on - near the end was a nostalgic slice of bleary bliss. All of this haphazardly "engineered" by someone who truly, madly, deeply does not seem to give a damn.
John Doe, X's bassist-singer/co-leader, opened up with a country-blues-rock-chaos set with his offshoot band, the John Doe Thing. They had highs and lows, but Doe's sexy, supple vocals charmed.
The Roxy, which is not known as a rock site, was sonically sound and
hassle-free. Promoter Dave Werlin of Great Northeast Productions, noted,
"It's an under-utilized venue." Classic blues and progressive hip-hop acts,
from Buddy Guy to Digable Planets, have worked out. Said Werlin: "There's
more to Boston than Lansdowne street ."
Your intrepid maintainer is DzM.