Potent pub rock from the Pogues
With The Pogues, a show’s success or failure always comes down to their infamous frontman’s level of sobriety. Will it be the near-incomprehensible falling down drunk Shane MacGowan, or the only slightly slurred speech version?
Last night at the Orpheum, Pogue fans thankfully got the latter, as the Irish-punk veteran gleefully howled through a marathon set of classics with surprising lucidity.
MacGowan, wearing a black suit and top hat, was treated to a king’s welcome and launched immediately into “Streams of Whiskey,” his rowdy paean to the inebriated life. Coupled with the spritely and joyous accordion-fueled shuffle of “If I Should Fall From Grace With God,” a palpable ease could be felt by the crowd, grateful in the knowledge that their hero was in fine form.
With most Pogues shows, a lion’s share of the attention gets heaped in MacGowan - a shame since the rest of the band has only gotten better, more sharp and controlled through the years. Spider Stacy’s nimble tin whistle and Philip Chevron’s hard acoustic strum anchored the eight-piece band as they rolled through a bevy of finger-picking chestnuts including the menacing Near East/Irish ceilidh hybrid of “Turkish Song of the Damned.”
For many shows in the past, MacGowan’s presence proved more ornamental than practical. The combination of his drunkenness and the audience’s determination to sing every word at the top of their lungs often overwhelmed his vocals. Not on this night. While his inimitable sandpaper brogue never will be mistaken for Christy Moore’s, there’s a certain rough and soulful charm to his voice when he’s on his game.
As the show neared the end, MacGowan and Co. started bringing in the big guns, jolting the crowd with frenzied celtic punk nuggets like “Body of an American” (last seen in several episodes of HBO’s “The Wire”) and other crowd favorites. While newspaper deadlines forced an early exit, it was clear to both the fans and the band itself that The Pogues are undergoing a modest rennaissance. Cheers.
The Pogues, with Gimme Danger At the Orpheum, last night and tonight.
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