SHANE MACGOWAN AND THE POPES
Depending on what you want from Shane MacGowan and the Popes, their August 13 show at Lupo's Heartbreak Hotel in Providence was either a well earned success or a profound flop.
Do you want classic 1980's songs from MacGowan's old band, The Pogues? Then the luck of the Irish is with you, because Shane MacGowan has returned to his Celtic Folk punk roots with a passion.
But if you're tired of the old stuff and hope for something fresh, stay away.
MacGowan has staggered 180 degrees away from the world-beat tones that infused The Pogues' final album with him as front man. A crowded Lupo's show marked the second stop in his first US tour since a messy breakup with The Pogues, and promotes a new album titled "The Snake."
That night's mood carbon copied the rowdy agitation of the old band. The audience consisted of plaid clad grungers and the body-pierced along with mainstream students and older fans of Irish songs that The Clancy Brothers wouldn't touch with a ten-foot pole. A favorite from the past, "Streams of Whiskey," launched the 80 minute set and established a bawdy pace for most of the show. The audience pogoed, slammed, threw beer, and in the back of the room there were some ragged jigs.
MacGowan, who is rarely more animated on stage than a Walt Disney robot, drank, smoked and barked rude lyrics with a strong, gravely vocals. He seemed to lean on the mike stand more for support than dramatic effect. A spirited, slurry rendition of "If I Should Fall from Grace with God" paved the way for one of the few new songs, "Nancy Whiskey," and its irresistible, reckless beat.
In keeping with his punk origins, MacGowan effectively fused Celtic music to a proud indifference to anything politically correct. Examples include "Donegal Express," a ribald anthem to infidelity. "The Sickbed of Cuchulainn" features lyrics like, "They took you up to midnight Mass and left you in the lurch/So you dropped a button in the plate and spewed up in the church."
But Shane MacGowan and the Popes aren't a one chord band. Melancholy numbers like "A Pair of Brown Eyes," and "The Broad Majestic Shannon" added an emotional texture to their overflowing collection of rude Irish songs. Other breaks from the standard fare consisted of a Neil Diamond cover, "Cracklin's Rosie," [sic] and an enthusiastic rendition of the rock'n'roll classic "Hippy Hippy Shake."
The skillful six-piece backing by The Popes shouldn't be forgotten. The infrequent instrumental numbers did more than provide MacGowan with a chance to take a drag on his cigarette. The Popes played with energy and dedication, and most important, with a lot of raw talent.
Shane MacGowan and the Popes are a thinly veiled version of The Pogues
that has yet to wear thin. For now, that's not a bad thing because
they can still entertain. In the future, though, one hopes that they
will part with the old material without losing the musical core which has
kept fans faithful to MacGowan over the years.
Your intrepid maintainer is DzM.