Celtic punk rockers the Pogues still have it
The Pogues had begun in 1982, broken up in 1996, and re-formed in 2001.
Wednesday night’s show indicated the vintage lineup still has plenty of power and elan.
This year’s tour ads boast of eight original Pogues in the lineup, and if MacGowan’s drinking makes him the most tenuous member at any given moment, the comeback of guitarist Philip Chevron, who battled throat cancer in June, makes him the most inspirational.
About midway through Wednesday night’s 105-minute show, Chevron replaced MacGowan at the mike to sing his emigration ballad, “Thousands Are Sailing,” delivering it with confident aplomb, as the song’s banjo/accordion/pennywhistle melody wafted over the throng.
Naturally, the boozy, celebratory crowd came to hear MacGowan too, and he didn’t disappoint. Flicking a cigarette almost constantly, MacGowan’s song intros were virtually indecipherable, but his ragged baritone was right on the mark for tunes like the pensive “Body of An American,” and the rousing “Boys From County Hell.” Chevron again gave MacGowan a break, singing the easy-rolling ballad, “Love You Till the End,” with gritty authenticity.
The feisty romp “Greenland Whole Fisheries” rode superb banjo and mandolin lines, despite a somewhat muddy sound mix.
But for Celtic music fans, and punk-tinged Pogues fans, could there have been any better moment than the hearty sing-along on “Dirty Old Town”? Wonderfully interwoven banjo, mandolin, dobro and pennywhistle drove a stirring rendition that had a chorus of 2,500 added singers.
MacGowan, 50, tossed off the rock ’n’ reel “Bottle of Smoke” over fiery accordion lines, puffing away between verses.
Wednesday night you went away thinking the butts will kill him before the booze does. But then he’d redeem himself with a moving take on 1985’s “Sickbed of Cuchulainn,” traversing its tempo shifts expertly.
James Fearnley’s boisterous accordion fired the charge through “Sally MacLennane” that was the first encore.
Again, MacGowan’s vocal gifts were breathtaking on the heartbreaking piano ballad, “Rainy Night in Soho.”
A driving gallop through “Irish Rover” ended the first encore segment.
Drummer Andrew Ranken came out front for the second encore, singing a marvelous version of the stately ballad, “Star of the County Down.”
MacGowan returned for the bouncy jig “Poor Paddy,” and then the whole octet hit the heights on the Mexican-tinged “Fiesta,” as wildly careening and rollicking a musical romp as any Irishman could imagine.
That song began with whistle player Spider Stacy on percussion with a beer tray he kept smashing against his head. By the song’s end, MacGowan had found his own tray and joined in the fun, and somehow it all made delirious sense.
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