The Pogues

Publication: City Life

Author: Chris Gilliver

Date: December 14, 2009

Reviewed gig: Manchester, Apollo – December 13, 2009

Original Location: Link

IT used to be glittery advent calendars, but now it’s The Pogues that stir my Christmas excitement.

I loathe most festive songs, but this time of year provides me with a rare chance to listen to the finest duet of all time: Fairytale Of New York. It’s a small miracle of a song – at once bitter, loving, true to life, and anthemic.

And The Pogues come to town every year to put us in the mood – although I read on various blogs that this is the last year fans will see them live because of Shane MacGowan’s drunken behaviour.

Last year he purportedly fell over and forgot the words to the songs.

You can feel a certain tension between Spider Stacy, the tin whistle player, and MacGowan. At one point he tries to step in to sing, but MacGowan throws catlike hisses at him to ward him off.

There also seems to be a strange moment where MacGowan vomits on the floor in front of Spider before stumbling off. Spider retorts, “This is a pain in the ass for us”.

Surprisingly romantic

But through all this behaviour there’s no denying that MacGowan is still a deeply charismatic front man, a poetic lyricist, and a great gruff singer. You only have to listen to A Pair Of Brown Eyes with the crowd singing along to know that the man has a gifted way with words.

When you combine this with the amazing musicianship of the rest of the band it makes for an incredible show.

The rebel rousers like Streams Of Whiskey or If I Should Fall From Grace With God, which are met with a merry mixture of pogo-ing, clapping, and romping hoedowns, might be the most popular, but the slower sing-alongs like Dirty Old Town are the most stirring.

The instrumentals are simply profoundly entertaining – especially when the accordion player knee-slides across the stage.

We have to wait until the penultimate song of the second encore for the surprisingly romantic Punch and Judy classic Fairytale Of New York. It’s a perfect moment, augmented by Fiesta that closes the show using up the last of this rowdy crowd’s dying energy.

The Pogues are notoriously unpredictable, but when MacGowan’s on this sort of form, though advancing into middle age, they are one of the best live acts out there. They combine all of my favourite things in music, melody, intelligence, and punk spirit, the result being total euphoria.

I can’t wait to see them again next Christmas. It wouldn’t be the same without them.

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