Pogues Can Never, Ever Retire!

Publication: Irish Voice

Author: Mike Farragher

Date: March 19, 2008

Reviewed gig: New York, NY, Roseland Ballroom – March 15, 16 & 17, 2008

Original Location: Link

ROSELAND Ballroom hosted the biggest and baddest Irish party this past weekend as the Pogues settled in for a string of sold-out shows in midtown.

After 15 years in limbo, the lads have been doing annual pilgrimages to the States since 2002. While none of us thought they would ever reform, it is now incomprehensible to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day on the East Coast without Shane and the boys!

They brought a special treat for the fans by bringing Billy Bragg along for the ride, and it was great to see this Brit rebel as cantankerous as ever. He mesmerized the crowd with cranky alt-rock anthems and pointed commentary from the stage.

“I just don’t get Guitar Hero,” said Bragg, shaking his head. “Whatever happened to strumming a tennis racket to your favorite Thin Lizzy songs?”

He sounded like the Clash unplugged, and even had a song called “Old Clash Fight Song” about a punk hero who has to get a day job to put food on the table as he rebels. “George Bush will soon be gone,” he snarled at the end of the song.

He finished his criminally short set with the classic “A New England,” drawing parallels to “a new America that will come if more than 46% of the population actually votes and avoids Republican cynicism.” I’ll drink to that!

The Pogues hit the stage at a respectable 9:15 p.m., which must have seemed like the crack of dawn to Shane’s crew. They barnstormed the stage with “Streams of Whiskey,” followed by a rollicking “If I Should Fall from Grace With God.”

Like starved Celtic tigers, they ate their way through the meaty Middle Eastern grooves of “Turkish Song of the Damned.” Swirling to the music, poor Shane lost his equilibrium, knocking his head on a speaker as he fell to the ground.

“Thank you for your concern,” he snarled as he dusted himself off and continued the show. The sold out crowd of 3,500 roared their approval.

Shane was as woozy as ever, stumbling around the stage with a whiskey bottle in hand. He might have slurred those gorgeous lyrics from time to time, but he never lost his way in the songs.

Though the ravages of his recreational activities are obvious to the naked eye, he is sharper than ever and has somehow improved with age. He hit notes that seemed impossible a few years ago. Fair play to him!

The crowd roared loudly when Phil Chevron sang lead vocals on “Thousands Are Sailing.” Looking gaunt after his successful battle with throat cancer, one suspected that the adoring applause he received was the best medicine he could get in his battle.

Unlike most groups that have bass and drums drive the band’s direction, the Pogues were guided by the fierce interplay between the accordion trills of James Fearnley and the furious mandolin picking of Terry Woods. Fearnley is well into his fifties but routinely dropped to his knees with the energy of a man many decades younger.

The band’s shows are known for their furious punk energy, and judging from the swarming bodies in the mosh pit there were many people burning in that glow. The highlights for me came when the band slowed it down. “A Pair of Brown Eyes” never fails to bring a tear to my own eye, and “Dirty Old Town” became a playful sing-along.

The first few annual reunion tours produced safe set lists that primarily concentrated on the hits, but the 2008 set list was packed with rare gems.

“Dark Streets of London” and “Kitty,” two lesser known tracks from Red Roses for Me, and “The Broad Majestic Shannon” from If I Should Fall from Grace With God were nice surprises for diehard fans.

Chris Byrne from Seanchai predicted that Irish bars would have MacGowan songs on the jukebox 100 years from now, and it is hard to argue with that prediction. These songs are so embedded in our culture that it’s hard to believe that songs like “Bottle of Smoke” and “Fairytale of New York” are only 25 years old.

Here’s hoping that this never ending reunion tour never ends!

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Transcribed and made available by Zuzana.