The Pogues, Carling Academy, Newcastle
THE Pogues' Christmas tour has become so well-established a fixture in the festive calendar that it's hard to believe this is only their sixth since reuniting with Shane MacGowan in 2001.
Like turkey, indigestion, family feuds and Slade's Merry Christmas Everybody before it, and BBC1's Doctor Who specials since, the punk-folk veterans' seasonal outing seems more of an institution than the relatively-recent phenomenon it really is.
That's probably because one of its high points – a rendition of what might well be the best Christmas single ever, Fairytale Of New York – seems to have been around forever.
Since narrowly missing out on the No 1 spot in 1987, it's been back in the Top 40 no fewer than five times, including the last four years on the trot.
As with Slade's opus, however, familiarity has failed to breed anything approaching contempt for the simple reason that it's an absolute masterpiece of its kind.
Thursday's night airing at the sold-out Academy, as the band's second-last encore, was fantastic.
With band member Jem Finer's daughter Ella taking the Kirsty MacColl part, it featured fake snow and, on MacGowan's part, dancing so ungainly that he made John Sergeant resemble John Travolta in his heyday.
He might have looked like death warmed up, and he might have had to pop backstage every couple of songs, but MacGowan was on cracking form throughout the near-two-hour set, and rarely without a drink to hand and an impish smile.
If he uttered one comprehensible syllable between songs, I didn't hear it, but as soon as he started singing, his voice – though unlikely to have Tom Jones worried about the competition – was as clear and strong as it ever was.
From opener Streams Of Whiskey to a finale of Fiesta (complete with banging of heads with a metal tray) it was a fairly predictable 'best of' set.
But when the back catalogue includes the likes of Sally MacLennane, Dirty Old Town, A Pair Of Brown Eyes and If I Should Fall From Grace With God, no one's going to complain about that.
Happy Christmas their hindquarters, I pray God this tour's not their last.
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