The Pogues, O2 Academy Brixton, review
The electricity in the room as the London Irishmen rolled out their Eighties primetime hits completely overwhelmed.
Rating: * * * *
This latest jaunt from London Irishmen the Pogues was billed as their “Farewell Christmas Tour”, positing an end to a seasonal institution that began as recently as 2004. Back then, the newly reunited band’s leader, Shane MacGowan, was in such a state of booze- and drug-induced disrepair, it seemed a miracle that he was even contemplating performing live.
No official reason has been given for the cessation of such annual antics this year. They haven’t cut a record since 1996 – that one, which was written and recorded without MacGowan, was such a turkey that they’ve often vowed never to make another. There were a few messages between songs, all of them indecipherable, but the gist seemed to be: “It’s the last time till the next time.”
The audience, nevertheless, approached the event as if it was their last night on earth, rather than just their last ever Pogues Christmas gig (possibly). The electricity in the room, as the band rolled out the hits from their Eighties primetime, was at times completely overwhelming.
In the past, there has been a grizzly voyeurism about coming before the physical reality of MacGowan. On this occasion, two pints of colourless fluid, with ice and lemon, stood awaiting him on a table stage front, and each time he lurched off to the wings, he returned bearing a tumbler full of something whiskey-esque and a lit cigarette. Yet, now almost 53, he looked slimmer, and less deathly white than he has for some years. As he snarled and ranted, it was hard to confirm reports that he’d had a full repair job on his withered, stumpy teeth – certainly, there was no ring-of-confidence grin for his admirers.
Although their set was pretty much as it has always been, the Pogues frequently took your breath away. Songs like Sally McLennane and the instrumental Repeal of the Licensing Laws were a frantically punky take on the Irish jig, still original and undeniable, while The Band Played Waltzing Matilda was genuinely epic, inducing scenes akin to the Anfield Kop singing You’ll Never Walk Alone.
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