A Salute to the Dissolute Pogues

Publication: The Washington Post

Author: Dave McKenna

Date: March 19, 2009

Reviewed gig: Washington, DC, 9:30 Club; March 17, 2009

Original Location: Link

The terrible beauty that is Shane MacGowan was born 51 years ago. But the Pogues' brilliant and blatantly tragic frontman has given his body, or at least his liver and teeth, to his craft. MacGowan looked at least three times his actual age when he came to the 9:30 club stage Tuesday, wearing a dark hat and smoking the first of a dozen or so cigarettes while helping a capacity crowd cap off its Saint Patrick's Day celebration.

But the music and all the boozy and deserved huzzahs the fans threw at him and his marvelous band had a Benjamin Buttonesque impact on MacGowan. By the time he launched into the funeral/party song "Body of an American" early in the 90-or-so-minute set, MacGowan could have passed for a live human being.

Not that he ever looked like anything other than damaged goods. During "Sunny Side of the Street," he fumbled with the microphone stand while attempting to pound it on the floor to the drummer's beat, and couldn't muster the coordination to pick up the mike when it fell. And diction-wise, MacGowan's between-song banter made Ozzy Osbourne sound like William F. Buckley.

But if synchronized stage moves and intelligibility are your bags, stick to the Backstreet Boys and Kenny Chesney, respectively. If it's passion and songwriting genius you want, stand by the Pogues. MacGowan provided chills when going hard -- spewing profanities in "Poor Paddy," a song about an Irishman's life of labor -- and soft, as he warbled "A Pair of Brown Eyes" and "Rainy Night in Soho."

The enraptured crowd, whose members flaunted their Irishness by wearing green fezzes and Boston Celtics jerseys (most commonly honoring that favorite son of the old sod, Larry Bird), behaved and chanted like benevolent soccer hooligans all night long.

They screamed approval as MacGowan showed off his lovable, buffoonish side during the set-closing "Fiesta" (a word that clearly translates to "party" in Gaelic, too). MacGowan attempted to match tin-whistle player Spider Stacy's antics by picking up a drink tray and smashing himself in the face with it. Stacy at least kept the beat with his prop; MacGowan just looked like he was hurting himself.

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