THE POGUES, WEMBLEY ARENA
THERE was a rumour afoot that Shane MacGowan would not be joining his colleagues for the current tour. Rumour plainly has not grasped that the Pogues without MacGowan would be like the Catholics without St Peter. He may have lurked, an ineffable presence, in the downstage shadows, deflecting the arclight and, whenever he stumbled off, the limelight to the seven other musicians. But he was there.
People know what to expect of a Pogues performance, which bears all the marks of a ceilidh monopolised by a posse of musically accomplished punk rockers. By ripping out the front section of Wembley Arena's stalls, the promoters also knew what was coming. No one took the show sitting down; even the logo projected onto the backdrop behind the band was collusively jigging up and down to the pile-driven beat of guitars, banjo, concertina and pipe. And yet it is curious that while few bands could heat up this frigid venue quite so potently, no other band can claim to have a frontman quite so static.
Because he shied away from the glare it is not the easiest of tasks to assess MacGowan's performance. These things are never certain, but the impression was that his microphone stand was not there just to hold up the microphone. He resorted to mobility only when making frequent sorties backstage, taking a dead pint glass with him. They would both come back refreshed, but while he was away the band played on without him, among other delights offering ''Star of the County Down'', a traditional Irish stomper.
If the visual hallmarks of a MacGowan appearance stay the same, so do the vocal ones, and long may that remain the case. Given the venue's acoustic unfriendliness, it was never likely that his lyrical glorification of drink and the doomed men of Dublin would be heard in detail, but he made sure that they were not by grinding them into a slush of indistinguishable syllables.
In fact most of those present knew the verses better than MacGowan did. Even in mainstays of the set ''Bottle of Smoke'', ''A Pair of Brown Eyes'', ''Boys from the County Hell'' and Ewan MacColl's ''Dirty Old Town''he would growl out a vocal accompaniment roughly in time with his professionally sober colleagues and heave confidently in for the chorus.
There were two surreal touches to this concert. One, a raffishly improbable
cover of the Temptations' ''My Girl'', came in the middle. The other came
when, after a couple of encores, the Pogues exited and the cute rhythms
of ''Always Look on the Bright Side of Life'' replaced them, contradicting
everything we had been encouraged to think.
Your intrepid maintainer is DzM.