MacGowan and Pogues: Mighty smooth

Publication: The Inquirer

Author: A.D. Amorosi

Date: March 19, 2007

Reviewed gig: Philadelphia, Electric Factory - March 16, 2007

Original Location: Link

The Pogues: Both raw and tender, Shane MacGowan (left) was disarming, charming. Many questions arose while standing in Friday night's pelting ice storm for the Pogues' sold-out show on St. Patrick's Day Eve at the Electric Factory.

What was wrong with these people, braving the frozen rain, waiting in line? Would hell break loose amongst the green-wearing Irish folk and wanna-be Irish folk when midnight came? Would Shane MacGowan - the snaggletoothed Pogue rager notorious for bagging shows or being half in the bag - show up? (MacGowan had canceled March 14's Manhattan gig after damaging his knees during a stage fall in Boston.)

The answers came swiftly and sweetly. For the wet crowd was treated to graceful, tightly played favorites, as well as surprises, such as "Greenland Whale Fisheries," from Ireland's rambunctious traditionalists. Punk poet hero MacGowan, wheelchair-bound, offered shockingly tender vocals between puffs from his many cigarettes.

From the banjo-bucking, accordion-sawing shuffle of "If I Should Fall From Grace With God" to the passionately poignant "Rainy Night in Soho" - shouting out choruses, crooning through breaks - the Pogues were lit from within, boozy pun not intended. The toasty ethno-tango of "Turkish Song of the Damned" and its waltzing cousin "Fiesta" were spiky and rich. Squeeze-box poppers like "Tuesday Morning" were fluffy yet full-bodied.

Yet no matter which Pogue took the mic or how buoyantly unbusy their bustling arrangements (a mass of whistles and mandolins never sounded as spare as they did on "Kitty"), it was MacGowan who was most disarmingly charming. Even screaming, he sounded smooth.

Take his rough-tumbled phrasing for the aforementioned "Kitty." Here, MacGowan used his salty baritone like W.C. Fields, taffy-pulling each weary phrase. Slurry and phlegmy as his voice could sound, MacGowan still crooned clearly and winsomely through the Japo-Celtic "Sayonara" and the rollicking "Sunnyside of the Street."

But MacGowan sounded mightiest through the swaying lullaby of "A Pair of Brown Eyes" and the starlit, harmony-soaked "The Broad Majestic Shannon." Through their weird romances and guitar pluck, MacGowan sounded sorrowfully vulnerable yet magnificently empowered.

Magic, really.

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