OH, WHAT A SHANE!
Shane MacGowan is not exactly an ambitious solo artist.
But, hey, the singer had every reason to be confident as he took the RPM stage nearly an hour late Tuesday.
He had a sell-out crowd of 1,000 rallying behind him with cult-like devotion for his first Toronto gig since being sacked by The Pogues four years ago.
He and his new quintet, The Popes, were armed to the teeth with sturdy songs from their debut CD The Snake.
Why then - after a quick rendition of The Snake's anthemic "Donegal Express" - MacGowan decided to rattle through a bunch of Pogues favorites, Celtic traditionals and oddball covers instead, remains a mystery.
How he pulled it off is even more mysterious.
It's safe to say MacGowan was feeling no pain, to no one's surprise.
By song three, he was headlong into the Pogues' "If I Should Fall From Grace With God," which he followed with a mystery reel where the only audible word was "whiskey."
Garbling lyrics beyond recognition, mumbling ultra-flat melodies that trailed half a beat behind the band, and hanging on to the mike stand for dear life, MacGowan was in rough working order.
The stage banter was no less entertaining.
MacGowan: "Whad'ya cawl a hrrndd unnffuuhllleer rmmmmppllrrr?"
MacGowan: "Un Irish runperlerrgurgleber, huh."
The Popes were ramshackle enough to match their maestro, and vigorously injected some goofy movement into the performance. But they couldn't disguise the fact that they were a remarkable pack of Celtic musicians.
Accordion player Kieran O'Hagan, fiddler/tin whistler Colm O'Maonlai and maniacal tenor banjo slinger Tom "McAnimal" McManamon churned out furious Irish jigs.
High-kicking guitarist Paul McGuinness, bassist Berni "The Undertaker" France, and drummer Danny Pope gave the jigs a rock wash.
Even timeless Pogues numbers like "Bottle O' Smoke," "The Broad Majestic Shannon," and the superb "Pair Of Brown Eyes" - "an awldie bud a goodie fer all the lawvers in the crowd" - came across like originals, partly because MacGowan helped pen them, partly because The Popes sounded so fresh.
MacGowan was always the focal point. Watching him stagger and falter made for a great Celt rock spectacle.
It was also a cruel reminder that pathos has always been part of entertainment.
Your intrepid maintainer is DzM.