In the moment
The Pogues live in the moment, and last Thursday that moment lasted two hours at Avalon. It was the first of four Boston shows by the band who created the idea of Celtic punk in the mid ’80s before having to boot notorious frontman Shane MacGowan out for bad behavior. Now they seem to be back on track, or at least back in the States for a second consecutive St. Paddy’s Day reunion tour with MacGowan. They’re playing the catalogue — material from the first five albums, all recently reissued. On Thursday, that amounted to 26 songs of drink, destruction, defiance, degradation, redemption, damnation, Irish immigration, broken love, and, oh, death and glory. MacGowan, drinking wine, not whiskey, barked, smoked, sung, and hung onto the mic stand. When he stopped to chat before “Lullaby of London,” it sounded something like “Fuckin’ [unintelligible], fuckin’ [unintelligible]!”
The set opener, “Streams of Whiskey,” was a statement of purpose, with its declarative “I am going/I am going/Any which way the wind may be blowing.” The tearjerking ballad “A Pair of Brown Eyes” was one high point: the booze-and-mayhem-filled “Boys from County Hell” was another. Celebrating misbehavior, ferociously sometimes, is what the Pogues are famous for. But they’re just as well known for the lilt and lift of Terry Woods’s mandolin, Jem Finer’s banjo, James Fearnley’s accordion, and Spider Stacy’s tin whistle. That mix of punk attitude and trad Irish instrumentation may have been a novelty back in 1985; now it’s like a familiar old friend who’s come around for a drink or two.
MacGowan was in fine form. “Fuck you very much,” he said at set’s end before undercutting the insult with a friendly “Only kidding.” The band returned for two encores, playing such favorites as “Sally MacLennane,” “A Rainy Night in Soho,” and “Poor Paddy.” They wrapped up with the peppy, Mexican-flavored instrumental romp “Fiesta,” MacGowan and Stacy banging themselves on their heads with cafeteria trays. Celebration and self-flagellation — perfect.
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