You needn't have known me long to find out that I'm something of a rabid Pogues fan, have been for the past 20-odd years or so. Strangely enough, I've never seen the band in concert, tho I did catch singer Shane MacGowan on his tour for The Snake back in 1997 or so – a disspiriting show, in which John Doe of X opened to a frankly uninterested crowd & Shane himself delivered a 45-minute, slurred & disoriented set.
The Pogues, who've been performing "reunion" tours with their classic 8-member lineup over the past 9 years or so, were scheduled to play at this weekend's Langerado Festival in Miami; I wanted to go, but didn't want to pony up the massive ticket price, so it was almost a relief when the entire festival was cancelled. Not good for the Florida music scene, certainly, but it relieved me of a big financial dilemma ($150 for one band). Shane & the boys, however, seem to have already booked their tickets & shipped their gear, for about two weeks ago I discovered they had rescheduled to the Pompano Beach Amphitheatre (dig ye olde Englishe spelling, typical around here), where we saw them last night in all their aged glory. (Promotion could have been a bit better – the turnout was frankly pretty embarassing, giving rise to Spinal Tap in Marineland jokes in the half hour before the band took the stage.)
Shane is as drunken & disoriented as ever: he began the set by with a bit of slurred raving about how glad he was to be in "Miami, My Mammy!," & quoting (I take it) some lines from Scarface. He moves like an old man needing hip replacement surgery, paunchy, his cheeks sunken from his lack of teeth. One could understand only every 3rd of 4th word of his between-songs banter. But his singing, while worlds away from the magnificent bellow of the band's heyday, was remarkably assured. And the band itself is better than ever. Okay, there's a suspicious number of shaved pates among the band members; and sure, they've more or less become an "oldies" attraction, since they haven't written any new songs since 1996: but they have a wonderfully rich repertoire to draw on, & played a scorching set of selections from their five classic MacGowan-fronted albums. As players, they're sharper & more precise than ever.
I was particularly taken with Terry Woods, the cittern/mandolin player (picture above, in the band's heyday). Woods was brought into the band in 1986, for the EP Poguetry in Motion; he was about 10 years older than the other members of the band, having played in a number of 1970s folk-rock outfits (he was with Andy Irvine & Johnny Moynihan in the influential Sweeney's Men, and a founding member of Steeleye Span). Woods brought a level of instrumental competence to the group, especially in playing the tunes & ornamentations of traditional celtic dance music, far beyond that of most of the rest of them: where the Pogues had been an accordian-driven group, now they were an accordian & cittern-driven outfit.
The cittern fascinated me when I saw it cradled in Woods's arms on the photo from If I Should Fall From Grace With God, and when I heard him play it. (Woods's "cittern" is an 8-stringed, 4-course instrument, tuned an octave down from a mandolin – it's essentially identical to what in current circles is called an octave mandolin or Irish bouzouki.) I had to have one, & had to learn to play it. Which I sort of did, & still do – I now have at least 3 citternish instruments around the house, and can bash out most of the Pogues's repertoire in my own fumbling fashion.
At 62, Woods remains the linch-pin of the group: if anything, his playing is even more fiery & exciting than it was back in 1989. He's an inspiration to all balding, aging bouzouki players everywhere. And the Pogues, I'd say to anyone who's in the neighborhood for their upcoming Atlanta, DC, Boston, & New York shows, are better in person than they've ever been.
For true analites, the set list, in blurrily remembered order:
Streams of WhiskeyIf I Should Fall from Grace With GodTurkish Song of the DamnedA Pair of Brown EyesRepeal of the Licensing Laws (an instrumental, Shane's first break)The Broad Majestic ShannonSayonaraCotton FieldsBottle of SmokeTuesday Morning (sung by Spider Stacy, Shane's second break)Sunnyside of the StreetThe Body of an AmericanLullaby of LondonThe Sickbed of ChuchulainThousands Are Sailing (sung by Phil Chevron, Shane's third break)Sally MaclennaneA Rainy Night in SohoDirty Old TownGreenland Whale FisheriesPoor PaddyThe Irish RoverFiesta