Travelpogue, or Time After Time
Fall of 1991 was a dark time, partly because of the fact that I was in college in Buffalo, NY (referred to as Siberia for many of my friends back home in New York City), but mostly because of the news I received about my favorite band. I was busy doing what college kids do and generally not knowing what was happening in the outside world, when I got a letter from my friend Rico wanting to know if it was worth it to go see the Pogues at the Beacon Theatre with Joe Strummer since Shane was now out of the band. Shane out of the band, WHAT?!?! This was hard to fathom and hard to accept.
Perhaps every music lover has an artist they truly identify with, whose music speaks to them on such a level that it seems almost a part of them. For me, that band more than any other was the Pogues. I listened to and loved a lot of music but nothing ever quite matched my enthusiasm for the Pogues. At some point I made a vow that if the Pogues ever reunited for a show I would plan to be there no matter what the cost.
2001 came around and lo and behold, the Pogues announced a Christmas tour! This was a glimmer of hope for our civilization after another, more profound dark time 10 years after the first. As a native New Yorker who had known in my life some of the people in the World Trade Center towers, these shows would have been a great way to lift my spirits. The uncertainty of travel in those months with what seemed like body cavity searches and overall panic in the air, however, caused me to ultimately miss that tour.
When the 2004 tour was announced my beautiful and practical wife Kristen and I were in process of buying our dream house. Planning an international vacation at Christmastime while having spent all our life savings certainly sounds romantic; but cooler heads and empty wallets prevailed and I again broke my promise to myself. “Next year,” we agreed despite my lingering fear that this could well have been my last chance.
2005 was a different story entirely. As soon as I heard about the 2005 shows I instant messaged Kristen asking if she would be up for it. Kristen is a Pogues fan but not quite to the extent that I am. There was little to stand in our way this year other than the standard argument that Christmas is generally bad timing for an overseas trip. Aside from the expense, we live in North Carolina but our families are in New York and it is a given that we spend at least a week up there visiting. To add a 3000 mile trip to a foreign land right before that and with money to spend on presents and such, I knew this was asking a lot. To my surprise the response came back, “Sure.”
I immediately began looking into locations, flights, etc. That is when reality began to insert itself into the picture. Dublin and London were out because they were too close to Christmas. I started looking into Edinburgh with its 2 shows and Cardiff as a second choice. Neither of these places was easy to get to from North Carolina and I was looking at a 3 hop flight plan and tickets over $1000 each, plus lodging, meals and whatnot. Still, I was up for it if Kristen was. The cost did not go over well but it wasn’t a deal breaker; she was more concerned with the length of the trip over there. What made matters worse was when she asked what the weather was like that time of year. I was positioning this as a great opportunity for a UK vacation, a trip she has always wanted to take. The long trip for a short vacation and the horrible weather made it rather unappealing to Kristen but she knew how important it was to me and did not say no. After weighing everything and sensing her lack of enthusiasm I reluctantly proposed that we begin saving immediately and plan for 2006 and the shows that seemed to be becoming an annual Christmas time event. Kristen agreed and I had a guarantee that we would go next time they would play.
I am sure at this point it is starting to sound like there would be an excuse every year. This was different though. It was on the calendar and money was theoretically being set aside. Still, I had the same fear.
Imagine my thrill when, soon after resigning myself to waiting another year and hoping the boys would get together again, that the illustrious Philip Chevron himself posted that not only were the Pogues touring in March 2006, but in the US! (Allow me to digress here for just a minute to praise two individuals; First, DzM, for creating this site and who has a good argument if he wants to claim the title of Number One Pogues fan, a title which I have often claimed but have clearly not lived up to; and Mr. Philip Chevron, who aside from his artistic accolades, spends considerable time communicating to the huddled masses through this site.)
Kristen met my proposal to follow the Pogues to all six stops on the original tour with little enthusiasm. I guess she was thinking one show; I don’t know. Still, the thought of following the band from city to city sounded like the ultimate vacation. (On a side note, I am not aware of an equivalent name for “Dead Head” for Pogues fans; would have made a great headline for this article.)
Ultimately we worked out a pretty nice compromise as we’ll be hitting 3 shows. We will gather provisions and make the drive from North Carolina to Washington DC for the 3/9 show, then spend the weekend there seeing all the sights the missus only got to run past during her triumphant first marathon last October. We will witness history for the first US Pogues show of the 21st Century, and then we will witness the history of the US. As I write this that date is tomorrow and I feel like a child on Christmas Eve who can’t sit still because he knows when he wakes up there will be presents under the tree.
The following week we will fly not into any of New York’s three local airports, but into Islip Airport on Long Island; where we will rent a car and venture forth into the city and be swallowed by its massiveness for several days. There, we will marvel at James’ accordion playing and Shane’s ability to stand up. We will be enraptured with Philip’s beautiful rendition of his beautiful “Thousands Are Sailing.” We will be apprehensive over Spider’s non-response to my lame request for backstage passes. We will wonder if Terry will count in to “Lullaby of London” with a three or a four count. We will drink beer and lose our voices and ultimately we will stumble back to our hotel fulfilled; with wonderful memories in our heads! Then we will do it all again 2 nights later.
March 9, 2006
The day began predawn as I had to be at work by seven AM. I was running on less sleep than I would have liked because as usual I waited until the last minute to pack the night before and first had to bottle some homebrewed Belgian Dubbel that was long overdo. Luckily I was wide awake, even jittery, with anticipation. The wife and I each worked a half day and made the 275 mile drive after lunch. The drive was incident free save for Kristen wondering if the Pogues were going to play one of her favorite songs, one whose title, melody and lyrics she could not recall. I rattled off a series of songs to no avail. The only clue I got was that on the song Shane sounded ragged and maybe drunk; not very helpful. She decided it was probably on Hell’s Ditch so we played that one as we entered DC. It was not on Hell’s Ditch and we give up that search so we could find our hotel.
We checked into the hotel and went out to find a place for dinner before hitting a bar near the 9:30 club. We stopped at a corner to wait for the light and Kristen tapped my shoulder. It turned out were standing right in front of The Dubliner Pub. It was a lucky coincidence if not fate. I don’t know if it was the excitement of the evening or the place itself, but a pint of Guinness at the Dubliner tastes better than any I have had in North Carolina. A man with a guitar began performing around nine and if we were not destined for bigger things I would have been happy to stay there all night. However, nothing was going to deter us from our destination so at 9:30 we took to the streets in search of the 9:30. Serendipity followed us because at that exact moment a taxi cab was making his way down F Street and stopped for us just as we reached the curb.
We made it to the 9:30 with plenty of time to spare but already the line was around the corner. At the will call booth a couple of ladies found that they had tickets not for the Thursday show but for the Friday show. Better to show up a day early than a day late.
We made our way to the back of the line around the corner to wait. This was a dark street with an old boarded up townhouse and a chain link fence blocking an empty lot; while across the street there was a warehouse with enough broken window glass to know it functioned for target practice. A couple of homeless gentleman hung about. A man parked his car in front of the warehouse and brought over a box of shirts for sale. I believe they said “Ceili Cowboy” on the front and were billed by the salesman as “Pogues and Shane MacGowan T shirts’. Standard lettering with no pictures. There was the choice of green or orange. He made his way from the back of the line to the front and back again with a pile of shirts that did not appear to decline on his journey. This was free enterprise at work.
Before long we were about 20 feet back from center stage with drinks in hand with less than hour to go! The young, the old, the brave, and the bold came in and surrounded us. Right in front of us was a man who looked like a cross between Peter Boyle and Danny deVito. To our left was what I believed to be a father and son team. On my right were a happy drunk and his wife/girlfriend. Ceili Cowboy Salesman showed up sporting one of his homemade shirts (Orange) and a beer and eventually drifted back off again. I occasionally looked around to see the throng on the balcony. They were all seemed to be hanging on the edge of the rails waiting and thank God the place was well built.
I had a few beers that evening but you would think it was a few espressos because I couldn’t stand still. I checked my watch every two minutes until about 11 then gave it up because I could feel it coming. Soon enough “Straight to Hell” began playing and I knew this was it!
Just as the boys filtered on to the stage there was a tidal wave behind us and to the left. Kristen and many others were being violently shoved by some skinhead looking bastard who wanted to get to the front and didn’t give a fuck for anyone else. This was not your typical jostling; this was a man willing to do bodily harm. I did not take kindly to the treatment my wife received and stepped forward to let him know. He cursed at me with a hateful look in his eyes. I stared right back at him and he plowed into the crowd in front of us spilling beer everywhere; not to be seen again. I nixed any plans to head up to the pit in front and kept a cocoon-like embrace around my wife for the rest of the show.
My attention now redirected properly, I saw that everyone one in the band looked great as they launched into Streams of Whiskey, the first song. Shane swaggered in like he owned the stage. A tie hung untied around his neck. I wondered if this as a fashion statement or a display of laziness. Based on my knowledge of the man I would have thought it was the lack of effort; but then why even get it to around your shoulders? Anyway the look worked for him.
I caught my first good view of Andrew during the bittersweet line in Broad Majestic Shannon that goes, “There’s no pain, no more sorrow. They’re all gone, gone in the years, babe.” I thought of Andrew’ s own loss documented on later Pogues albums. As he pounded away I felt sadness for him and wondered what he was thinking then.
Every time Shane introduced a new song I had to ask what he had said. Rarely did I get an answer but I generally figured it out once the song started. His singing was top notch but it would take me a while to get used to the speaking. Next up was Turkish Song of the Damned and Philip was making funky dancing movements with his fingers when not playing guitar. I expect it is a good way to keep them limber, which they clearly are because they certainly get moving during that song. Terry was making some impressive movements of his own on the mandolin.
As the show wore on I thought Spider must get one hell of a bruise on his thigh every show because he whacks his whistle on it all night when not playing. Luckily he did not seem to damage the instrument.
It has been discussed that all the members of the Pogues bring their own significance to the band. Casual fans often flock to Shane; certainly he is a gift to the world and he commands attention when he is singing. But when he walked off the stage every few songs I didn’t really notice he was gone because there were the Pogues in full swing. This is a live band at the height of their powers and, I think, having as much fun as we were.
The second encore began with Star of County Down. Right after that, a small contingent of people was, apparently, leaving. This was right as Fairytale was about to begin and I was flabbergasted. It was not as if we were at a ballgame and they needed to rush to the exits so they wouldn’t get stuck in traffic. Where were these people going? Perhaps they were invited backstage? I would never find out and soon forgot as Ella Finer did a fabulous job singing and dancing with Shane. I couldn’t tell if Shane was trying to move her around faster and faster or if they were going faster because he was trying to get closer and she was doing her best to keep her distance.
At shows end we left happy and fulfilled with a spectacular show. We shared a cab with a 2 other concert goers. Contented and hoarse, none of us spoke. I sat back and relived the evening in my mind. I have a feeling it is only going to get better when we meet them again in New York.
As we got ready for bed Kristen had a revelation, the song she could not remember was perhaps not a Pogues song but one Shane did with the Popes. “St. John of Gods?” “That’s it!” she said and we went to sleep.
Final note on Washington DC: we spent Saturday afternoon in the American History Museum. Our last stop before leaving the museum was to the museum’s music shop. There I found a CD for sale called “Whiskey in the Jar.” On that CD, among recordings by the Clancy Brothers, Dubliners, etc., was the song “Sally MacLennane (Live)” by the Pogues. It was a fitting end to this leg of the vacation to find that the Pogues have their own little place at the Smithsonian.
Contrary to what I would recommend to others heading to NYC, Kristen and I flew into MacArthur Airport on Long Island and rented a car to drive into the city. This added several hours to our trip but saved us some money and allowed the opportunity to visit our new nephew Erik who was born on March 13. So, a one hour drive into Manhattan was followed by another hour to drive the remaining ten blocks to get to our fancy hotel. We arrived at about three o’clock and decided to take a short nap so we could be fully refreshed for the evening’s festivities.
The short nap turned out to be a little more than short, so we had little time grab dinner and have some drinks at Connolly’s. We walked into Connolly’s at about 6:30, conscious of how little time we had since I wanted to get to the Nokia at 7. It was packed. I had a Guinness in a plastic BudLight cup and Kristen had ice water. I regretted the fact that I hadn’t taken the time to try to make any firm plans with anybody, or even post a picture, and I was somewhat lost in a sea of anonymity. There was no one standing about screaming that they were Macrua and didn’t give a fuck for anybody’s rules and no body claiming to be DzM tried to take my beer so we just kind of stood around for a few minutes listening in on conversations for some indication of Medusans in the vicinity. I had no such revelation and am not the type to announce myself so when I finished my drink it was close enough to 7 and we left for the Nokia. On the way out I believe I saw Georgecat in conversation with a few others but by then we were committed to the Nokia so we continued on.
We arrived at the Nokia at a few minutes to 7 and the doors were already open. The Nokia has a more corporate feel to it than the 930 club in DC. We were inspected by men with metal detector wands on the way in and took an escalator down to a large lobby that wrapped around the theatre and contained several bars, coat checks and an electronics display. Three men were standing to the right of the escalator to check ID and give wristbands for alcohol. One of them insisted upon giving me my wristband because I had on a “Guinness Toastmaster” t-shirt. Decked out with my new yellow wristband, I paid $7 plus tip for a can of “Guinness Draught” poured into a plastic cup that almost but does not quite hold the whole can.
Inside the theatre there are 4 big chandeliers that cast a light on the walls that looks like a scene from Hitchcock’s “The Birds” or that the shit had recently hit the fan. We walked in from the side onto a level that was about the same height as the stage. The section immediately in front of the stage was about five feet below that and there were two dozen or more people already milling about. Behind us there was stadium seating with several people already ensconced. We decided to hang out in the lobby for a little while and people watch. One of the people we saw was a little old man walking by wearing a huge winter coat. Another man rushed after him and called out, “BP!” and I believe asked for an autograph. By this time DJ Scratchy was on stage and playing some great music.
Shortly before 8:00 PM we lined to the right side of the stage about 4-5 people back. William Elliot Whitmore came out at about at with his banjo, politely introduced himself and began playing his chain-gang songs. The raw emotion of his songs was perfectly punctuated by the banjo and seemed to me very unique for our time. I loved his music and his voice and thought he did not get enough time.
Mr. Whitmore had a relatively sparse audience but people began to stream in steadily. We were soon surrounded by a rowdy crowd. Many were inebriated and some smelled of body odor. Several around us were getting to know each other by comparing tattoos. A tall fella came in wearing a blue Volvo baseball cap made some comment about just wanting Shane to show up. When the Slackers began their set, he began kicking his feet around in a dance and gave himself plenty of space. Another man who was there alone started to do the same thing for a minute or so until, perhaps realizing he was one of only two people doing this and that he might have looked like he was copying Volvo-cap-guy, he stopped and went back to the tried and true bob of the head in tune with the music.
The slackers put on a pretty good set; although the trombone player / co-lead singer was a bit too much a showman for our taste. Their bass player was playing an electric but was standing it up on a stool and playing it like an acoustic.
Security seemed a little strict at the Nokia. A little roughhousing near the front resulted in a security guard standing on the rail grabbing the accused and telling them to calm down or else. Cigarettes were lit here and there and were often snuffed out soon after with a word from security. At one point, two guards came in from the side and had words with someone at the rail near the center. They left him there, but soon after the Pogues came out he was to be forcibly removed from the premises.
DJ Scratchy kept us entertained for a while longer until the familiar sound of “Straight To Hell” came on. At some point BP Fallon came up to us and provided us with a postcard advertising the Death Disco, inviting us to attend. We would not be able to make it but I thought the postcard would make a great souvenir. Too bad I lost it. Soon after, all Pogues were present and accounted for and Mister Fearnley stepped to the mic and said, “This is for the Cranky George Trio.” I looked up to either side to see if Dermot Mulroney was hanging over the ledge from the VIP section, but I recognized no one.
Shane came out with his tie again hung untied around his neck, confirming that this was, in fact, a fashion statement. He stood by his microphone stand and raised his arm straight out towards the crowd in a salute. We returned the gesture so he raised his arm again and we again responded. Shane turned to look at his band mates and began to laugh. We were, after all, giving each other a Nazi salute.
The band was more talkative tonight than last week and seemed more relaxed. I was beginning to understand more of Shane’s speech as he asked the audience who had seen Brokeback Mountain. Musically, they were again spectacular, better than last week in DC. They seemed both comfortable on stage and well primed to give their best for the first night in New York. Streams of Whiskey lead into If I Should Fall From Grace with God and on to Broad Majestic Shannon. I loved the way Shane conducted the band. He reminded me of an old Irish uncle who wanted to show off and be a part of the action at the same time.
This crowd was rougher than in DC but it might have been because we were closer to the front this time. There were several body surfers early on who were passed up towards the front and quickly dropped in front of the barrier; it looked like they were just dropped over the edge but I assume they were caught by security. One of them was Volvo-cap-guy. Someone through a t-shirt up to the stage that said, “Legalize the Irish.org.” A couple next to me was writing the name of each song on her shirt. The same woman was text messaging a friend on her phone during the show and I caught the words, “sweet Irish dreams” in the message.
Shane introduced Philip with, “Now here’s Philip Chevron with one of the greatest songs ever written.” Philip appropriately took the opportunity to recommend that we legalize the Irish, interrupted by Spider who suggested we legalize everybody. It’s remarkable that Thousands are Sailing still reflects current events. As ever, Philip and the entire band did wonderful justice to the song.
Throughout the evening, Kristen and I were slowly pushed back by the crowds. Volvo-cap-guy was back in front of us sans cap by the time Old Main Drag started and managed to command an entire six foot circle for himself as he decided not to hold himself up so that he bounced back and forth among the crowd who would shove him away. I really wanted to let him drop but there was not enough space without an organized effort so he kept getting shoved.
By the end of the main set we were about twenty back standing next to a woman who had to be fifty or more who was here with her son. Andrew was the fifth Pogue to sing that evening when he sang Star of County Down during the first encore and made the song his own. I watched Shane singing backup on the left side of the stage. With all of his backstage visits, it can look to the casual observer that Shane is in his own world and doesn’t consider himself part of the band. Watching him sing backup shows that even Shane knows every member of the band plays an equal, critical part.
The boys did a great job timing the show because when Fiesta ended the show, Philip announced that it was 12:01 AM and wished us a happy St. Patrick’s Day. Phillip Chevron is a showman and a class act.
We had been staying with my mother in the Bronx since Saint Patrick’s Day so we drove down to the show and lucked out by getting a parking spot on the street a few blocks from the Nokia. A sign greeted us at the bottom of the escalator and informed us that we would be recorded tonight watching the glorious spectacle. It made me consider venturing up to the front again but I had already committed to the seats for tonight. We had a lot of activity in the last nine days and it was wearing us down a bit, plus we thought it would be nice to view the show from a different vantage point.
We were at the coat check at 7:45 PM when I heard William Elliot Whitmore’s voice through the speakers. I thought it was nice his recorded music was getting some added exposure until I realized that it was not recorded after all. Whitmore was already on stage singing. I had been looking forward to seeing him again and I felt he got screwed this time because he was off the stage again soon after 8 PM. I was all for seeing the main attraction but would have preferred more Whitmore and less Slackers.
The Pogues arrived on stage at 9:30 PM. This was the second to last show of this tour and there was no hint of uneasiness from my vantage point. They had seven straight shows under their belts and were killing every night and they knew it. We heard plenty of jokes and comments from them this evening. Spider and Shane were apparently attempting New York accents while talking about ‘Mooks.” Shane offered a Lenny Bruce joke and also informed us he’d seen Brokeback Mountain seventeen times! Witty banter continued throughout the evening.
Viewing the show from the seats was very different; almost like an out of body experience. We could see people filing in and milling about as if we were not quite part of the action. A benefit was we could take in everything that was happening on stage as well as in the audience in front of us. One such happening was a man who came into the show on crutches and stood in the upper section. When the show began, one of those crutches was high up in the air and swaying with the music. Soon after, the miracle of the Pogues must have healed him because there were two crutches in the air!
Most of those in the seats used them. The crowd around us was for the most part just as excited as the people up front, but from a sitting position. There were a few people here and there who found themselves compelled to stand at various points in the evening. A couple was sitting next to us whose male half was sporting a cane. They were as excited when the Pogues came out as anyone else I had seen in three shows.
The VIP sections to either side were a bustle of activity. I saw one man dragged down the stairs and out of the show and I wondered what he did first to get invited up there and to be escorted out. He was either not as important as anticipated or did something heinous. We witnessed Ella Finer exiting the same section later in the show to get ready for her big scene.
Watching the stage from a distance was overall not as enlightening as standing up front, but some interesting revelations did emerge. For one thing during the openings of one of the songs I noticed there was a well dressed man standing on the left side of the stage smoking a cigarette. I was trying to figure out what he was doing there when it dawned on me that this was Philip Chevron! I had no idea he smoked. Soon after he sang to us and his voice was as sweet as ever.
At various points in the show, lights were shown on the audience. There are no lights over the seats in the back. Instead there are lights along the ceiling of the standing section that were pointed right in our faces so that we had to hold our arms up to keep from going blind. This happened several times during ‘Thousands Are Sailing.’ If a DVD comes out of the show this should make an interesting backdrop because we so blinded we probably looked a bunch of immigrants that had been smuggled in to the show in crates which had just been opened.
This show ended with Shane’s famous balancing act, which lasted about ten seconds before the bottle dropped to the floor. It didn’t break so he picked it up and sprayed the audience in front of him; which I understand included some Medusans.
After being cursed out by a girl in the coat check line we left the Nokia having just finished seeing our third and final show of this tour. I have put a lot of words on paper to try and describe these events and have failed miserably because the experience is indescribable. The excitement I had leading up to it was surpassed by the thrill of the experience. It was a long wait and it was more than worth it, but I hope I don’t have to wait that long again.
This adventure did not turn out as we originally planned. The plan was to immerse ourselves in the experience, be front and center at every show and in the thick of the action, and follow up every show by socializing and drinking with the other Pogues Rogues and Medusans. We were forced to modify our plans when we got some incredible news the day before the first show. Some who read this may have been thinking that I was overprotective and wondering if Kristen was perhaps a little too fragile for these events. It is difficult to describe my anxiety with bringing her to the first show after learning just 36 hours before that Kristen is pregnant with our first child! It was nerve racking to be constantly jostled by the throng and my excitement was tempered a bit by my constant worry for her safety. Kristen did not have the energy she normally has so we curtailed our social plans and focused on the main event which of course was the shows themselves. It is still early and we have only told a few close friends and family, of which all who read this are now a part. We are thrilled with the news and I am hopeful that some of the magic of these events was absorbed by our baby. I am sure that he/she will become a lifelong Pogues fan!
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Your intrepid maintainer is DzM.