The Pogues are back and they’re ready to rock.
By Ira Kantor
BOSTON, Mass.– For the iconoclastic (and newly reunited) band The Pogues, the moment of truth has arrived. It’s 8:30 p.m. and Boston’s aged Orpheum Theatre has just gone dark. Cheers and applause rattle the walls. Is the worst going to happen or will everything go according to plan?
Lead singer Shane MacGowan is carefully led to his center-stage microphone by a roadie. He’s limping slightly with his head down. But it doesn’t matter. His fist is raised – he’s officially ready to give a show. Phew.
MacGowan has a long history of debauched, liquor-fueled performances behind him. He is infamous for being unable to function without a bottle by his side and a pack of smokes on him. Although this concert, the fourth of the band’s four Boston performances this week, was certainly no exception, MacGowan managed to come prepared. With a newfound energy and a clean black suit to boot, MacGowan’s vocal intensity – when coupled with the musical fervor of his bandmates – made for a solid 90 minutes of rollicking musical bliss.
Beginning with the jovial “Streams of Whisky,” MacGowan clutched his microphone stand like it was an IV giving him life support. Though virtually indecipherable when speaking, MacGowan sang with the esophagus of a dragon. Frenetic tunes like “If I Should Fall From Grace With God,” “The Boys From The County Hell,” and “Bottle of Smoke” proved some of the more memorable numbers of the evening. With occasional screams and lion roars also leaking out of his mouth, MacGowan and crew sounded just as they did 25 years ago – snotty, pissed off, and invincible.
But that’s not to say MacGowan didn’t also come with flaws. While his bandmates immersed themselves in the joy and spirit of their music, MacGowan remained a stick figure, awkwardly rocking back and forth while growling into the microphone. He was unable to go through an entire song without taking a swig from one of several plastic cups around him. A cigarette constantly seared his already charred throat. At one point when walking off stage, MacGowan tripped and refused to get up for a good minute. Fortunately, the term, “and the band played on,” has never applied so magnificently.
As MacGowan found his footing, his bandmates, led primarily by tin whistler Spider Stacy and guitarist Philip Chevron, improvised to further invigorate the audience. Nobody sat down at any point during this show, which included two encores, and for good reason. The Pogues’s songs have always been politically poetic in order to rile people up, in a traditional Irish fashion. If MacGowan tuckered out at times, he seceded vocals to both men who seemed only too happy to keep the sold-out crowd on its feet.
Collectively though, the band knew how to showcase its underrated tender side. Sentimental ditties like “Lullaby of London,” “The Broad Majestic Sharon,” and “A Rainy Night in Soho,” all reflected a demureness complimented by a starry backdrop. Contrarily the last song of the evening, “Fiesta” left the most indelible mark. Raucous cheers and loud clapping rivaled MacGowan’s vocals but he still successfully managed to reach out to the “rambling boys of pleasure” and “ladies of easy leisure.” A quick thumbs-up signified his end for the evening.
But for the band, this concert proved just the beginning of future and much-deserved greatness.