Pogues Deliver Two Solid Nights at The Riv

Publication: Lumino Magazine

Author: Tammi Owens

Date: April 16, 2008

Reviewed gig: Chicago, IL, Riviera Theatre – March 5 & 6, 2008

Original Location: Link

The first of two sold-out nights at Uptown’s Riviera Theater began with a bump in the road. When showtime arrives and your singer is nowhere to be found, that’s trouble, especially if that singer has a (lets say) colorful past. Yet, I guess it wouldn’t be Shane MacGowan if he wasn’t surrounded by controversy. It’s been a long time coming, but The Pogues are back, complete with Shane back in the fold, and on the road doing what they do best.

As the time ticked by, the one saving grace was the ever flowing beer that fortunately continued to flow and the masses indulged. Finally about a quarter after 9 PM, you could hear the buzz that Shane was in the building. Arriving out of the shadows from stage left, Shane arrived wearing a black stove hat, sunglasses and the ever present lit cigarette and an uneasy swagger as he made his way to the mic. The crowd cheered for their leader who would take them on a journey with their own style of Irish folk radical punk music.

The rumor, I heard later of Shane’s tardiness, was claimed to his confusion of the venue. Apparently, Shane was biding his time at the Foundation Room at the House of Blues, which Shane was under the impression was the venue they were going to perform that evening. Anyone that knows Chicago knows that the downtown House of Blues is no where near to the Uptown area of the Rivera Theater. Of course if they had just previous played a HOB or one was coming up in their itinerary you could cut him some slack; sadly it’s not the case.

Regardless, all was forgiven the minute the band went into the opener “Streams of Whiskey.” A title that was used in 2002 for an often panned live album from a gig of The Pogues from Leysin, Switzerland on July 12, 1991. Although the sound of this disc isn’t the top notch quality that we have come to expect, it captures a moment in time shortly before Shane would leave the band, with the guys tight and is a solid performance. The Pogues these days, a little bit older, a bit heavier and a few new faces since 1991, are still a great live band and the Chicago shows proved their ever lasting power.

Shane looks surprisingly healthy these days then I have seen him in years past. I still can’t decipher his in-between song banter, but it’s nice he’s still here on stage. He’s one of those people like Keith Richards, Iggy Pop, and cockroaches – they are going to out live us all. And God love them all…except the cockroaches. In fact there’s something loveable about the self destructive drunken frontman. The Pogues have proven they can exist without their toothless singer, but that wouldn’t be as much fun now would it?

MacGowan was in great form shining on the classic “Dirty Old Town” and letting out a great guttural wail during “Bottle of Smoke." Yet he wasn’t the only one taking on lead vocals this evening. Spider Stacy, who’s no stranger to the vocal duties, stepped up several times through the course of the night for songs like “Love You ‘Till The End” and "Tuesday Morning." Stacy helped keep the band alive when MacGowan left in the ‘90s and after the short but great stint by Joe Strummer. Hiding in the shadows, drummer Andrew Ranker also came in to provide vocals on "The Star Of The County Down."

Of course like many live shows, if you leave a Pogues show earlier, you might miss some of the best moments. I came back for night two to catch the tail end of their show and arrived just in time for the horn driven "Fiesta." Anyone who’s seen them perform this live knows Spider Stacy takes on the song in a special way. Spider takes one for the team, or his noggin, by bashing a beer tray over his head and adding it as an additional percussion instrument. I’ve read he uses a metal pizza tray these days but either way it’s got to take its toll on your head by the end of the tune. Still, it’s a must see live.

Regardless of which night you came out for The Pogues, both nights showcased a band that almost faded away before it’s time. The boys have been reunited on and off since 2001 but it wasn’t until 2006 they committed to a full-fledge tour. Now into 2008, the guys are back on the road and proving their staying power. At the moment there are no plans for a new album of new material. However, never say never. Who knew the band would ever see the return of MacGowan, let alone back on the road with him.

The boys from Kings Cross in London have proven their place in history. Their unique blend of traditional Irish music and the punk scene has continued to influence bands today. It’s great to see them all back on stage, but let’s hope they take that energy and talent back into the studio for one more go.

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Transcribed and made available by Zuzana.