The Pogues (London)
For those neither young enough nor sufficiently elderly to enjoy pantomimes at this time of year, the rousing comeback gig is the perfect alternative. And for a suitably festive blend of sentiment and celebration, who better than the reformed Pogues, all rowdy choruses and lilting ballads? Make it the "classic" line-up, including the erstwhile frontman Shane MacGowan and the original bassist and singer Cait O'Riordan, who hasn't counted in the band's number since 1986, and the show has to be the ticket to rival Sir Ian at the Old Vic.
The upside of seeing the Pogues in Christmas week is the guarantee of hearing what the nation (according to a recent poll by the music television channel VH1) regards as the definitive Yuletide song: Fairytale of New York. The downside is that the audience seems comprised almost entirely of the kind of people you dread at the office party: jovial types, a touch too loud for their own good, trying to drink two beers at a time.
It was special to see the Pogues line up on stage just as they did in 1987. By then, they included established Irish music legends such as Terry Woods and had grown from a shambolic punk outfit to an inspired mix of Celtic tradition, ragged pop and poetic rock.
The band's success continued even after MacGowan's notorious excesses drove him from the group in 1991.
Hairlines have receded, older faces looked gaunt (or, in MacGowan's case, bloated) and associates such as Joe Strummer and Kirsty MacColl are sadly no longer around to make guest appearances, but there was a proud sense of musicianship and heritage, even in Spider Stacy's tin whistle playing and James Fearnley's accordion accompaniments.
Despite this, the early numbers seemed lacklustre. It took the arrival, halfway through, of the foxy, Chrissie Hynde-like figure of O'Riordan to raise their spirits with her signature tune, I'm A Man You Don't Meet Every Day. Although there was a reunion tour in 2002, the current dates are her first appearances with the Pogues in nearly 20 years.
MacGowan, who came and went from the Academy stage, reflecting his on-off relationship with the band, lit up a cigarette mid-song. It failed to evoke the drink-induced nonchalance of old and suggested, more, a loss of enthusiasm. While it has to be said that MacGowan never owned a set of Osmond-white teeth, the state of his mouth now renders few of his eloquent, if inelegant, lyrics intelligible.
However, it didn't seem to matter that Dirty Old Town was plodding or that the bold, brassy Fiesta was messy; the throng were pushing, shoving and crowd surfing to the Pogues classics in their heads.
And they proved, as is often the case with good panto, that audience participation is vital. Their reward? It started snowing (on stage, at least) when MacGowan and O'Riordan duetted on the Official Favourite Christmas Song of All Time.
(performance rated with 3 stars out of 5)
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