The Pogues rock; Shane MacGowan sort of sways
I have never seen a human being so deathly pale without wearing makeup - which, because of the Halloween theme of this Voodoo weekend, I assumed Pogues frontman Shane MacGowan was. He was not.
The Pogues, rather against the odds, gained fame in the 80's by injecting traditional Irish music with a violent surge of punk rock energy. Besides the infectious stomp of their accordion and string-based assault, the band is also famous - or infamous - for the irascible and boozy MacGowan's tragic-romantic lifestyle of drink, drugs, self-destruction and a giant middle finger in the air.
Of course, a steady diet of Guinness, cocaine and bar fights makes for great songs - not so much great relationships. MacGowan was asked to leave the Pogues before the end of the 80's; the Clash's Joe Strummer filled in on tours. They finally disbanded in the mid-90's.
In 2001, they reunited (and MacGowan got a full set of new teeth.) Today at Voodoo, the originial lineup, minus bassist Cait O'Riordan, sounded absolutely crack - which made MacGowan's lurching sloppiness that much more apparent.
Tin whistle player Spider Stacy - a sort of sour-faced martinet in a black captain's hat and drape coat - opened the set with a snarled "Thank you very much," that sounded, somehow, like an invitation to do something unspeakable to your mother. MacGowan joined the band -clutching a can of Foster's - after three songs, to wild applause, and proceeded to sway, lurch, and stumble.
It seemed as if the band - who absolutely smoked - were playing around him in a way that was not unpracticed. It didn't interrupt the flow at all when he periodically wandered backstage to sit and rest on one of the Flaming Lips' road boxes, smoke cigarettes and accept swigs from fans' flasks (which, as the set went on, seemed like the kind of cringe-worthy enabling that followers crippled famous junkies like Johnny Thunders and William S. Burroughs with, late in their lives.) When onstage, he fumbled with the mike stand and cord, tangling it up and knocking it over.
Stacy, who recorded vocals for the band during the lead singer's period of banishment, handled most of those duties today, singing lead on "Thousands Are Sailing" and "If I Should Fall From Grace With God" from the album of that name - both originally sung by MacGowan.
When Stacy sang the opening to "Dirty Old Town," from the Elvis Costello-produced "Rum, Sodomy and the Lash," I heard someone yell, "Aw, no! Don't do this without Shane!"
Shane leaned on a friend, teetering, in the wings and watched.
He was led back to the stage and given a chair and a cigarette for the closer, "The Sickbed of Cuchulainn:" "There's devils on each side of you, with bottles in their hands."
The band disappeared like a shot when the song was done. The singer remained onstage, looking uncertain. His friend, or handler, led him to the microphone to say goodbye to the fans - some of whom had brought an oversized Irish flag and were waving it in the front row - but it had been turned off.
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