POGUES, FEMMES: POST-PUNK IDEALS
Violent Femmes, a Milwaukee-based trio, and the Pogues, a London-based, Irish-rooted octet, have shared similar ideals, if not an exact sound and vision, throughout the post-punk years. Each has brought emotional, idiosyncratic, literate music and an acoustic-based sound to a ever-swelling post-punk crowd. And of course, both have pumped that music up with tension and dynamics: Each makes a big, blaring noise. Each has ranged far afield, too, incorporating other musics (jazz, R&B, gospel, soul, etc.) into its particular world view. And neither has bought the rock-star trip by patronizing the audience, in its music or in its on-stage attitude. It's business as usual, and business is good.
The Pogues - fronted by Shane MacGowan on lead (garbled) vocals, lead cigarette and whatever it was he was drinking from his blue cup - signaled their mission at the onset of their 65-minute middle set in "The Boys from County Hell," staking the hell-raising claim. Which you already know from the Pogues' past. You probably also know the Pogues are still often pegged as boozy bards (if you like 'em) or bastardizers of Irish traditional music (if you don't). I like 'em, but they're much more than boozy bards. Their songs are finely detailed journeys through (mostly) troubled times; they can whoop it up and make you sigh in the same song; their songwriting and musicianship is underrated; and they're venturing into such subcultures as American soul and jazz (respectively, "Yeah, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah" and "Gridlock"). Their basic strength remains the same - marrying a lilting melody (in tin whistle, banjo, concertina and accordion) to a hard-kicking rhythm (in drums, bass and electric guitar), and cutting it with MacGowan's barking, declamatory vocals.
They took a gamble in playing 10 songs from their upcoming Peace & Love LP, risking audience unfamiliarity. I confess to loving the set, in part because I'd been listening to an advance tape for three weeks - letting the aural tapestry and the mix of anger and joy grow. It was, though, new stuff to the crowd of 7,100 - and still, it seemed to click. There's no denying the Pogues' spirit and, last night, finesse. Even when you think they might be out of it (Pogue 1: "This is our new single." Pogue 2: "Is this our new single?" Pogue 1: "It is in some places; it isn't here."), they play with a sharpness and edge many would envy.
During their 65-minute closing set, Violent Femmes did much the same, as singer-guitarist Gordan Gano evoked a universe of constant conflict. The Femmes started more strongly than they did at the Orpheum last spring and hit that rare interstice of casualness and intensity. Acoustic thrashes, gospel testimonials, sexual battles and angst-filled evocations filled the air, climaxing with "Gone Daddy Gone," "Kiss Off," "Add It Up" and "Blister in the Sun." Gano was both world-weary and optimistic, the Femmes hard-rocking and subtle. Gano always threatens to be too precious. He never succumbs, and the Femmes always kick it out.
Mojo Nixon, brash and bold as always, played an ingratiating opening
set of lean, raucous rock 'n' roll with his percussion-playing partner Skid
Roper. Nixon's lacerating wit jabs Elvis, Debbie Gibson and Rob Lowe (guess
what for?), and his act works much better live than on record, where it's
too much a novelty. Live, you see he means it; his devilish glee and audience-participation
gambits (including jumping into the crowd, sitting down briefly and watching
the show) do the trick.
Your intrepid maintainer is DzM.