POGUES BRING IRISH PASSION TO A MIX OF PUNK AND FOLK
In the last few years, "roots music" has enjoyed a renaissance with a growing number of American bands and pop audiences, with such once-exotic sounds as Cajun, zydeco and country blues finding their way into fashion and producing some interesting musical cross-pollinations. One of the most intriguing hybrid approaches, however, comes from across the Atlantic, in the form of an eight-piece band from the U.K. who call themselves the Pogues.
The Pogues, who headlined Saturday at the Vic, play their own roots music-Irish traditional ballads and drinking songs, with a few American folk songs and originals thrown in-punk style, with more energy than technical expertise. The results are often sloppy, but always passionate, one of the things that make the Pogues so appealing.
Last time they played Chicago, the band brought with them a special guest in the form of Elvis Costello, who produced the band's 1985 album, "Rum, Sodomy & the Lash." This time around, the band has been joined by guitarist Joe Strummer, known for his work with the British rock group The Clash. Strummer, who played acoustic guitar most of the evening, is filling in temporarily for ailing Pogues member Philip Chevron, who's sidelined with an ulcer. Strummer took a turn in the spotlight for two songs, handling lead vocals on "I Fought the Law" and The Clash's "London Calling," fitting in well with the band's rough-and-tumble style.
The group is fronted by the gravel-voiced Shane MacGowan, who vaguely resembles Mad Magazine's mascot, Alfred E. Neuman, and, in addition to singing, drinks a lot between and during songs. MacGowan brought not one but two bottles of wine on stage with him and managed to nearly polish off both of them during the set, becoming somewhat less coordinated as the evening wore on. (One of the more entertaining moments occurred when he tried to light one of his omnipresent cigars and dropped it on the floor.)
Backed by a lineup featuring such traditional instruments as penny whistle, banjo and accordion as well drums and electric bass, MacGowan enthusiastically tackled traditional Irish songs such as "The Irish Rover" along with Scottish folk singer Ewan MacColl's ballad "Dirty Old Town" and some new material from the band's forthcoming album. (A single, "Fairy Tale of New York," is due out by Christmas.)
Called back by a wildly appreciative crowd (some of whom had been slamdancing throughout the set), the band encored with the American folk song "Jesse James"; MacGowan's "A Pair of Brown Eyes," which has become more or less the group's signature song; and "Maggie May," the Rod Stewart hit single from the early 1970s.
Opening the show was Souled American, a four-piece Chicago group that
plays its own brand of roots music-a distinctive, guitar-based mix of bayou
soul and rock and roll. The band recently returned from the East Coast,
where it has been recording an album.
Your intrepid maintainer is DzM.