Pantomime Of Past Glories (Glasgow)
Apart from a week-long mini-reunion in 2001, this is the first time Shane MacGowan has appeared with The Pogues since their parting of the ways (awash on a tsunami of sake) in Japan thirteen years ago.
That much in itself was enough to guarantee full houses at their two Glasgow gigs last week, the opening dates of a 10-day UK and Ireland tour. As well as last month's rerelease of all seven Pogues albums, newly remastered and garnished with extra tracks, the other main selling-point of these Christmas shows is the reformation of the complete early line-up, including original bassist Cait O'Riordan, who left in 1986 after marrying Elvis Costello.
Sadly, the band's actual performance can't quite live up to expectations. The Pogues' music was never about subtlety or finesse, of course, but at their best the battered beauty of MacGowan's songwriting and his bare-knuckle delivery were matched by a correspondingly fierce, defiantly joyful spirit in his comrades' musicianship.
Here, for the most part, they sound like a reasonably competent Pogues tribute band who aren't trying all that hard, pounding away through the hits - Old Main Drag, A Pair Of Brown Eyes, Turkish Song Of The Damned, Rocky Road To Dublin - as MacGowan continues to amaze and delight the faithful by managing to remain more or less upright onstage.
You can barely make out what he's singing (even less so when he talks), but then that hardly matters when the entire venue has been transformed into a giant Pogues karaoke machine. A friend who'd been a fellow devotee back in the glory days drew a better analogy: a Pogues pantomime, with stock script, standard characters, familiar singalongs and showers of lager and Guinness instead of sweeties.
Judging this as an ordinary gig, in any case, is an irrelevant exercise. Nostalgia, needless to say, is an almost palpable presence in the hall, as manifested alternatively by guys in Celtic shirts getting far too ratted to remember anything about the night's proceedings, and in the tremendously potent pangs stirred even by substandard reprises of Dirty Old Town, Thousands Are Sailing and Rainy Night In Soho.
O'Riordan earns a touchingly warm welcome when she steps up for A Man You Don't Meet Every Day, while the distribution of leaflets campaigning for restitution over Kirsty MacColl's death is another poignant reminder of the Pogues' original heart and soul. Despite the nonstop onslaught on the bar, and the bouncers' swift dispatch of a few over-unruly souls into the night, the mood is overwhelmingly good-humoured - unlike that of a previous Glasgow show, perhaps MacGowan's last in the city before his departure, when a Union Jack was torched amid the crowd at the SECC.
In contrast, as with MacGowan's every outing nowadays, this one is an unquestioning celebration on the audience's part - primarily of the fact that he's still, miraculously, alive, and nominally performing. At the same time, though, there's something creepy or macabre about the anti-messianic myth that continues to pack out MacGowan's gigs, beyond the ever-present possibility that each one could be his last. It's almost like the religious fetishisation of saints' bones and other relics - only here with the added fascination that the dead man's still walking.
Musically, though, the all-vintage personnel can't conceal the dearth of present substance: treat yourself to the remastered albums for Christmas, and honour them as they were.
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