First Night: The Pogues, Carling Academy, Glasgow
When Shane MacGowan was unceremoniously rejected from the Pogues' line-up in 1991 during a tour of Japan, not many people – fans or otherwise – would have offered him good odds on seeing the millennium, let alone a reunion tour.
Of course, MacGowan - central to his band's image as a hard – carousing bunch of Celtic ne'er-do-wells – is blessed with a titanic capacity for drink. Although reports of his imminent demise have probably been just barely exaggerated over the years, he has somehow managed to keep standing and performing ever since.
While MacGowan formed the Pogues and continued to work with them through the 1990s, there's a dark and sad irony in the fact that he managed to survive Joe Strummer, his replacement in the Pogues until their eventual dissolution in 1996. Would that they could both be here to effect some kind of special guest duet.
Yet, in a world where rock legends with a real sense of individuality and charisma (no matter how abrasive) are in short supply, it's a real pleasure to see MacGowan still going strong.
Since they buried their many hatchets in 2001 and came back together for a Christmas tour, the Pogues' seasonal trip around the country has become an annual fixture. Of course, they're the creators of less faint-hearted types' favourite Christmas song ever in "Fairytale of New York", a fact leant even greater poignancy by the tragic death of Kirsty MacColl – MacGowan's original duet partner is another he's inexplicably survived.
By touring for only a few weeks each year and so far avoiding the compressed environment of a recording studio, the Pogues are doubtless mindful of spending too much time in each other's company, and it's a tactic which seems to be working. They look, as much as any other band, like they're enjoying performing. MacGowan certainly seems giddily satisfied, although that may be for reasons other than simple musical euphoria. If he's as half-cut as his speech might suggest, though, he's in good company – half of the crowd are clearly feeling the Glaswegian Christmas spirit.
To be fair, much of the singer's between-song conversation is unintelligible but he does get rather excited, when he mentions drinking brandy. His praising speeches for the crowd are accompanied by a raise of the glass and a tip of the head.
Yet his vocal performance is largely the equal of the band's rowdy but capably energetic playing. Amidst jig upon crashing reel, MacGowan is animated and enthusiastic. The vague busker's tone of his voice is perfectly suited to this two-hour marathon of closing time anthems.
He does occasionally waver – "The Irish Rover" is only recognisable from the music – but an addled triumph accompanies "Dirty Old Town", Streams of Whiskey and "Sally MacLennane". By the time he takes his bow, it felt like all our merriest Christmases had rolled up to the bar at once.
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