MAINSTREAMING WITH THE POGUES
THE VIOLENT FEMMES, THE POGUES and MOJO NIXON & SKID ROPER. Tuesday, Riverstage, Pier 84, Manhattan. An eclectic mix, in which the impact of the sum didn't equal the parts. BRACKETED between the smart-aleck cracks of a novelty duet and the pretensions of some midwestern rock auteurs, the Pogues came off at the Reebok Riverstage as essential musicians.
The thing is, these days, when too much pop music is sloppy or soft, they are essential. This is an eight-man wrecking crew, a mix of Irishmen and Englishmen who, at heart, are all Irish. The Pogues are a pub band extraordinaire who invigorate traditional folk music - jigs and reels and delicate airs - with a thumping, punk-rock fervor (a fervor that carried over to the fans: I saw at least a half-dozen fights that demanded refereeing by security guards).
That might seem to be a contradictory mix, but in the course of just four albums (Peace and Love, their latest and most musically complex record, is out next week), the streetwise Pogues have edged closer to a mainstream audience without alienating their hard-core fans: dogmatic followers who cling to their heroes in much the same way that Deadheads do.
I wish the Pogues success, but not that much success, just in case it spoils them. There were a few very un-Pogue-like happenings the other night that were worrisome: Shane MacGowan splashed beer from a blue paper cup and ripped and roared though his songs, but he prefaced some of them with "This is our new single" or "This is from our new album." MacGowan never shilled at the post-midnight Pogue shows at the World or Danceteria a couple of years ago. And there was no crowd at the lip of the Riverstage, which perhaps is why lead singer / songwriter MacGowan, who is my candidate for the thinnest man in popular music, didn't proffer a wine jug to pass among the faithful who usually gather at that place. The band rocked and rollicked through an hour of orderly chaos that blended gutteral ballads and woozy love songs with electric anthems.
Those last two numbers, along with the frolic of "Fiesta" and their recent experiments with Middle Eastern and calypso themes, point toward the band's ambitions to drive beyond the boundaries of their brand of trad-rock. The Pogues keep their instrumentation basic - banjos, accordions, Spider Stacy's tin whistle and drummer Andrew Ranken now has a full-size drum kit - but they've maintained the talent to shed preconceptions and grow.
As the sun set over the Hudson, nutjob Nixon and his pal Roper, who plays a mean washboard, entertained in a 30-minute set that appealed to some of the more perverse likings. "We're glad to be here, near where Debbie Gibson lives," yelled Nixon in a prologue to singing his not-yet-classic, "Debbie Gibson is Pregnant with My Two-Headed Love Child."
The three-member Violent Femmes from Milwaukee were chosen to close
the show, perhaps to encourage the Pogues fans to leave early. They didn't,
electing instead to hip-hop in (and on) their seats during a set that was
alternately strident and boring.
Your intrepid maintainer is DzM.