The Pogues, Brixton Academy, London
The artificial snow is falling and there are two grotesquely over-decorated trees at each side of the stage, where a singer dressed in black is staggering through a cheerfully dreadful dance routine. The crowd are yelling with festive delight, apart from a man standing next to me who announces that all this is just money for old rope. Maybe - but at least Shane MacGowan and colleagues have survived. One of the greatest bands of the 1980s, they teetered on the edge of collapse in the early 1990s, when MacGowan departed and Joe Strummer helped out, and have since veered towards self-parody, with more interest shown in MacGowan's drinking habits than his music. So it's an unexpected pleasure to report that he looked better, if more portly, than usual. And he sang remarkably well, at least on those occasions when he bothered.
The Pogues have sold out the sizeable Brixton Academy for three nights, and their mostly bloke-ish audience still loved them. All they had to do was revive those stirring, bittersweet favourites, from the opening Streams of Whiskey and If I Should Fall From Grace With God to A Rainy Night in Soho, and Dirty Old Town, which now became a rousing singalong.
There were some dreadful patches, like MacGowan's mumbled Rocky Road to Dublin, but he was rescued by his ever-reliable band. Guitarist Philip Chevron took over lead vocals for his classic, thoughtful Thousands Are Sailing, while original bass player Cait O'Riordan (the former Mrs Elvis Costello) returned after 18 years to add somegutsy backing on A Pair of Brown Eyes, though, sadly, her duet with MacGowan on Fairytale of New York had none of the subtlety of Kirsty MacColl's original. No matter. The Pogues delivered classy nostalgia. It should be a regular Christmas fixture.
(performance rated with 3 stars out of 5)
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