Streams of Whiskey: The Pogues @ The 9:30 Club
Another March, another run of sold-out Pogues shows at the 9:30 Club. Despite the propitious occasion of St. Patrick’s Day — the equinox 'round which the graying-but-still-preeminent purveyors of Emerald Isle folk-punk (funk?) book their East Coast tours in recent years — Tuesday night’s hootenanny was no more gleefully shitfaced than their 9:30 gig from last year on March 9. In fact, it was arguably less so: Frontman Shane MacGowan seemed more lucid than the last time he stumbled through town, and his snarled vocals more intelligible. And the other seven active-duty Pogues? Affable, enthusiastic professionals all -- especially Spider Stacy, the group's tin whistler and fill-in frontman who who bashed a metal tray against his head whenever additional percussion was required. The mid-show appearance of a two-man horn section gave a warm shading to several unabashedly sentimental tunes, but especially a late-in-the-game “Rainy Night in SoHo.”
Though The Pogues released a sterling five-disc set of archival material last year, they’ve gone well past a decade now without an album of new music. They shuffled roughly a third of their 23-song survey of (mostly) Thatcher-era Celt-punk from their last 9:30 residency, offering more variety than expected — and surely more than the faithful required — while remaining overwhelmingly beholden to their first trio of albums, circa 1984-8. Hey, they’re basically the world’s greatest wedding band at this point, and they know what their people want. And so: "Streams of Whiskey"? Right out of the gate, as usual. "Turkish Song of the Damned"? But of course. "Sally MacLennane"? What, are you still drunk? Check, check, and check.
Stacy once again stepped up to sing “Tuesday Morning,” the group’s sole hit during MacGowan’s involuntary '90s sabbatical. Even better, Phil Chevron sounded fit on my favorite Pogues tune, “Thousands Are Sailing,” having made (by all appearances) a full recovery from the throat-cancer therapy that was still part of his very recent past on last year’s visit.
That the group embroidered a mid-show “Sunnyside of the Street” with the opening figure from “Brown-Eyed Girl” — the deathless Van Morrison tune that Morrison always disliked — was a neat summation of the gig’s low ambitions and high spirits. Even so, “Body of an American,” which sent many a fine Baltimore policeman to his final resting place on the great TV show The Wire, got an instrumental coda at least as poetic as anything that spilled out of MacGowan’s mouth. Inevitably, its performance wasn’t quite the event it was last year, when Wire creator David Simon was in the house and the band played the tune even as the final episode of the show — which had made memorable use of Pogues songs in several key scenes during its five-year run — was airing on HBO. (“Body of an American,” you will no doubt recall, was reprised in the series’ finale.)
It was about that point in the show that somebody pointed to my notebook and asked if I was a stenographer: “If you can understand that shit, I sure can’t!,” he said, pointing to the stage
But half an hour later, when MacGowan dedicated “The Irish Rover” to Ronnie Drew, the Chieftans singer whose death last summer ended a half-century performing career, that was easy enough to understand, whether you knew who Drew was or not. The world’s greatest wedding band does a pretty good funeral, too.
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