Pogues get their Irish up
Shane MacGowan is 49 years old, looks about a decade older, and would never be mistaken for someone in even remotely good health. But the beloved Pogues frontman looked in much better shape this year than he did the last time the re-formed band played in Boston, almost a year ago.
While last year he appeared exhausted, overweight and of ghastly pallor, this year he was svelte, alert and frequently witty. Granted, with MacGowan, it’s all relative, and if he weren’t a shambling, drunken mass, muttering jokes and cackled laughter into his microphone and wandering the stage, there would be something truly amiss. But as of Avalon on Friday, he now looks like he might just survive a full tour, let alone the night.
Other than MacGowan’s relative health, there was little difference between this year’s Boston stops from the Pogues and last year’s, except for more shows - four this year, two last - with three of those shows at Avalon and a capper at the Orpheum last night. Friday’s roof-raising blowout, most certainly sold out, was the second of the four, and there were neither surprises nor any shortage of excitement.
The Pogues came on 45 minutes late, but were also allowed by Avalon to run well past the usual 10 p.m. curfew for Friday and Saturday shows, playing right up ’til 11 p.m.
One clear difference this year was the general admission standing room at Avalon. Last year’s Orpheum crowd was hardly sedate, but being able to dance made the crowd really rowdy, with an all-ages mosh pit in full bore in the center of the floor.
Some of the songs felt a tad perfunctory, even mechanical, and it seemed to take the band a few numbers to lock in and bring it all together. But the Pogues know how to set a torrid show pace better than most bands, and once ‘‘Streams of Whiskey,’’ ‘‘If I Should Fall from Grace with God’’ and ‘‘The Broad Majestic Shannon’’ put the train on the track, there was no slowing down.
Nearly two hours later, the band had covered almost all its bases, including sing-along blast-offs like ‘‘The Body of an American,’’ gorgeous, boozy ballads like ‘‘Pair of Brown Eyes,’’ and ‘‘Rainy Night in SoHo,’’ the wistful take on Ewan MacColl’s ‘‘Dirty Old Town,’’ the punchy ‘‘Bottle of Smoke’’ and the main set closer, ‘‘The Sick Bed of Cuchulainn.’’
If there was a single disappointment in the set list, it was the omission of holiday classic ‘‘Fairytale of New York.’’ Last year, it was Finer’s daughter, Ella, who came out to sing the late Kirsty MacColl’s part. This year Ella is not on tour with the band
In its place, however, the Pogues backloaded their second encore with the traditional ‘‘Poor Paddy’’ and ‘‘Star of the County Down’’ - the latter of which brought brawny Andrew Ranken out from behind the drum kit to sing lead - and then ‘‘The Auld Triangle,’’ and the frenetic ‘‘Fiesta’’ finale, with whistle-ace Spider Stacy banging his head with, as tradition holds, a metal tray.
THE POGUES WITH WILLIAM ELLIOTT WHITMORE
Friday night at Avalon, Boston. Second of four weekend shows at Avalon and the Orpheum.
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