The Pogues: Some Old Irish Songs With Punk and Pop

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I'm surprised that Mr. MacGowan is still alive, much less touring with his old mates.

The Pogues: Some Old Irish Songs With Punk and Pop
In a reunion show that culled their best songs, Shane MacGowan and the Pogues did as good a job as age and context would allow, playing well if slightly subdued.

Shane MacGowan took the stage yesterday evening, intoning some profane verses from Lou Reed's “Sister Ray,” and then the Pogues fired into “Streams of Whiskey.” When Mr. MacGowan removed his sunglasses, a few songs into his first performance in New York with the band in 15 years, you could look him in the eyes. Not the whites of them: he looked half-asleep, heavy-lidded, his face a slack, puffy frown surrounding missing teeth. The upper third of his face, anyway, was the most expressive part of his body.

In their seven-year run as an intact band, the Pogues amassed a cult audience around the world, fusing the sound of old Irish songs with punk and pop, bringing out the smashing force of a folkloric dance music. They made money; they had hits. They ejected Mr. MacGowan in 1991; he was only 33, but there was not much left in him, physically.

(One of his band members recently said that the end came when the singer was “leaving taxis horizontally.”)

In a two-hour show that culled their best songs — opening with “Streams of Whiskey,” running through “If I Should Fall From Grace With God,” “Young Ned of the Hill,” “Bottle of Smoke,” “A Pair of Brown Eyes,” “The Old Main Drag,” and closing with “Fairy Tale of New York” and “Fiesta,” they did as good a job as age and context would allow, playing well if slightly subdued.

Mr. MacGowan took breaks in the wings, vaguely restoring himself; others took the microphone to sing, including the tin-whistle player Spider Stacy and the guitarist Philip Chevron. But it was Mr. MacGowan who owned the best moments, with his lurching growl, especially in “Dirty Old Town,” where the audience sang along through all four image-rich verses about kissing a girl by the factory wall and smelling the spring on the smoky wind. Turning words into syrup, he said a few unintelligible things between songs — something about Americans, something about Truman Capote and Jimmy Breslin. He drank on stage. But he appeared not to miss a word of a song.

If I Should Fall from Grace - The Shane MacGowan Story (Sarah Share)
“If I Should Fall from Grace - The Shane MacGowan Story” (Sarah Share)

“Peace and Love” (The Pogues)

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1 Comment

I saw Shane play with The Popes in Washington, DC several years ago. The band's energy and Shane's energy couldn't have been a bigger contrast. They were intense and jumped around a lot, while Shane just stood there crookedly, barely moving. Still, it was a great show, and like the article said, he didn't miss a word.

I wish the Pogues were coming to Chicago.

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