The Pogues: Carling Academy
Crackerjack rating: 8 / 10.
Anyone who has seen The Pogues can vouch for the mercurial nature of their live performances and place the responsibility for that firmly at the door of singer Shane MacGowan.
Three years ago in Cardiff Arena he was aided on stage and appeared perplexed about exactly why he was there for much of the evening.
A helping hand was employed as the band took to the stage, and initially the self-destructive singer seemed unstable on his feet but in far better voice during the searing opener Streams Of Whiskey.
The utterly sold out Academy were instantly putty in the hands of the band through a 24-song set that lasted roughly two hours with little in the way of a dip in energy from crowd or performers.
At several junctures MacGowan took what could euphemistically be dubbed 'comfort breaks', and it was left to tin whistle player Spider Stacy to take up the reins.
A decent vocalist in his own right, Stacy is clearly confident in the role, but whenever the frontman returned it was to a thunderous cheer from those in attendance.
It wasn't all bluster and chaos from the Anglo-Irish band, however, and A Pair Of Brown Eyes lowered the tempo and added an emotional edge to the evening, the crowd wise enough to simmer down and allow the song to unfold leisurely. Adding shading to the palette, moments like this were few and far between as the eight members settled back into their rollicking take on traditional Irish music.
Dirty Old Town raised a huge cheer, partly for the song but it seemed also because its introduction was the first coherent bit of banter from MacGowan during the evening. Heading into the home stretch, he seemed to have sobered and stabilised, but even at his worst no cues were missed and the band help by nailing things with a ramshackle precision.
The evening became an event when band member Jem Finer's daughter Ella joined them for the inevitable Fairytale Of New York, a wonderful song that prompted a massive and heartfelt singalong from the crowd and more than a few wet eyes. As the fake snow fell on the dueting pair they danced to the accompaniment of the band, recalling the couple in the lyrics. That really should have been that, but a frantic Fiesta closed the evening with much smashing of tea trays on heads, but it felt un-needed after the song before.
Of special mention were support band The Urban Voodoo Machine. Their soon-to-be released album Bourbon Soaked Gypsy Blues Bop 'N' Stroll sums up some of what the nine piece band offer, but you can also throw in Dixieland and a healthy dose of Tom Waits' growl for good measure. Incredible fun, and hopefully back very soon.
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