QUESTION THE POGUES WISDOM BUT NOT GUTS
Give the guys credit; they've got a sense of humor.
The Pogues chose to take the stage in the Cirque Archaos tent last night to The Mission: Impossible Theme.
Then they kicked off with a most wretched version of "If I Should Fall From Grace With God" and . . . well, if God's a music lover, they did.
Joe Strummer stormed maniacally around the stage with a drooping microphone (the combined image was of an indignant flamingo) and the Pogues flew off in all directions at once. The sound was muddy, the words were lost and the instruments heaved together to make a mighty noise that only occasionally threatened to become music.
Then they hit the rails with "Sayonara", ex-Clash frontman Strummer settled down and they began to dig out of the hole they'd dug themselves into.
You could question the Pogues' wisdom in kicking off their set in the big top in Exhibition Stadium with two songs so totally associated with MacGowan - but not their guts.
After firing their much-beloved frontman in Japan a few weeks back, it would have made sense to load the set with songs by the other members of the band, to play to their strengths and bury their weaknesses.
Instead, they led with their chins and followed with a flurry of body punches. But, every time they stuck out their chins, they got decked.
There were moments when the Pogues showed just how good they can be without MacGowan.
And the finest was when guitarist Philip Chevron reclaimed his lyrics to "Thousands Are Sailing", bringing a melancholy lilt to it that MacGowan's gravel never did. If there was the one moment in the evening that shone, that was it, with Chevron truly reinterpreting the song about the exiled Irish of New York, rather than just restating it.
But most of the time, the songs MacGowan would have sung were handed over to Strummer, and that was a mistake; he went at them like a rapist, with wild and unfeeling energy.
To be fair to Strummer, he's been thrown into this tour without a life jacket. And when he sang the Clash's "London Calling" or "I Fought The Law", or the Stones' "Honky Tonk Woman", he and the band swirled into a fine fury.
But on "Dirty Old Town" or "The Sickbed Of Cuchulainn", he and the Pogues went together like fins on a Volvo.
The Pogues, on the other hand, showed they could rock with the best of them when tin whistle player Spider Stacy and bassist Darryl Hunt closed out the hour-something set with "Yeah, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah".
In all it was a magnificent catastrophe, quick, disjointed, and reckless. Strangely, it's not as if the band was without an anchor. In fact, there were several: Jem Finer lurking in the shadows throwing out banjo notes or spine-tingling sax solos; accordionist James Fearnley, as always laying the foundation and striving to tear himself to pieces; Chevron, his hands a blur, making thunder.
And, from the wreckage, the band rose to an encore of Rankin belting out the Irish traditional "Star Of County Down".
It was almost as if they were celebrating surviving the night.
Your intrepid maintainer is DzM.