The Pogues, Brixton Academy, London
The Pogues used to be famous for playing brilliantly shambolic shows. But time has taken its toll: the middle-aged men on the Brixton Academy's stage did not look like they had many wild nights left in them. Even Shane MacGowan, who in the past decade has become more famous for his continued existence than for what he actually does with it, looked comparatively professional: that is to say he stayed upright and remembered his lyrics.
This concert was part of a reunion tour, MacGowan having been booted out of the band in 1991 when his alcoholism and drug use became intolerable. Neither he nor his bandmates have done much of note since. Yet in the 1980s MacGowan was one of pop's best lyricists and The Pogues one of London's most exciting bands, their songs a unique hybrid of punk and Irish folk.
It is hard to imagine music like theirs being made again. Their London-Irish take on traditional Irish music, which involves both a sentimental attachment to it and an adventurous transformation of it, is a throwback to a time before Ireland became one of Europe's most affluent countries and an importer rather than exporter of labour. Rebel songs about Irish nationalism do not have the same purchase in the days of the peace process as they did when MacGowan first sang about the Birmingham Six.
Perhaps that is why the concert took a while to get going. MacGowan seemed to be in a better state than he has been for a long time but the set didn't spark into life until Cait O'Riordan, his old vocal foil, joined him for two duets, one of them the charming ballad A Pair of Brown Eyes.
MacGowan's stagecraft was not up to much: when not singing, he chainsmoked cigarettes and dangled the microphone like a man surprised to find himself holding one. But his vocals were abrasive and full of bite. Hearing him sing Old Main Drag and Fairytale of New York (the only good Christmas song ever written) was to be reminded of a songwriter who once rivalled Morrissey for verbal wit and romanticism. Time cannot take that from The Pogues.
Copyright © 2004 The Financial Times Ltd.
All rights reserved